The snow arrived this year very early in November. The Gulmarg bowl and its adjacent peaks got buried under a blanket of snow announcing early winter in a place which is known as a world class skiing destination as well as a tourist place which attracts both domestic and foreign tourists. Gulmarg and Pahalgam are the two most famous tourist destinations of Kashmir which almost every tourist cherishes to visit during his/her itinerary in Kashmir and this year both the places saw very good rush of tourists as arrival for the first time reached more than 2 million. This is one of the great milestones for people related to the tourism industry as after many years the hotels in Kashmir were fully occupied and tour operators admitted a bumper season.
Officials are hopeful that it’s going to be record tourist arrival this year. “We will easily cross 25 lakh tourists this year. This is one of the finest news for the tour industry and hopefully next year more tourists will visit Kashmir,” said a senior officer in tourism department.
The last time the valley saw tourists in large numbers was in 2012 when about 13 lakh visited.
After the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019 and two years of travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Jammu and Kashmir administration focused on reviving tourism that is now showing results. Only 8.5 lakh tourists visited Kashmir in 2018 and 11 lakh in 2017. The people associated with the tourism industry, especially hoteliers, are upbeat.
“For us this year was good as far as tourism is concerned. We had very good seasons. The bookings were in advance. We are hopeful that in the coming years we will witness the same influx of tourism which is going to uplift our economy,” said Jahangir Ahmad, a tour operator based at ski resort Gulmarg.
He said the ski resort is all prepared to host winter national games and ski events. “We had early snowfall and expect more snow which is going to give further fillip to the arrival of tourists in Gulmarg. Besides domestic tourists, foreigners are also very much interested in coming to Gulmarg for skiing as it’s cheap and has world class powdery snow, not less than European countries.”
President KCCI, Sheikh Ashiq welcomed the arrival of a good number of tourists to Kashmir but wanted this should sustain. “Hereafter we want this flow to continue and government and local stakeholders can play a very important role in this sustenance.”
Officials said the arrival of a good number of tourists has made them open more locations.” We opened several new virgin destinations and home stay arrangements were set up for tourists. We are planning to keep more winter destinations open for the winter months and organizing good number of events. Earlier only Gulmarg and Pahalgam used to be open. Now many new destinations will remain open throughout the year,” said a government official.
Even the officials and top politicians acknowledge that the impact of a good number of tourist arrivals is visible on the economy. “Large numbers of people associated with tourism, this year had very encouraging business. We are hopeful it will continue here onwards,” he said, adding that there are shootings of films and OTT platforms lined up in Kashmir which are being handled by locals. “We want to sell this place as a wedding destination so that people will spend lavishly here.”
The arrivals have given fresh renewal to the urban economy of the valley particularly to the hotel industry.
Mukhtar Shah, president of Gulmarg Hoteliers Club, said that this year was different from all the years since the 1990s.
“First time after the 1990s, we saw both winter and summer seasons almost packed. The government also tried its best to promote all the seasons. The scenario is still good, the enquiries by prospective visitors are still being made and the winter is giving positive vibes,” Shah said.
“In Gulmarg alone we witnessed 80-90 percent bookings throughout the year on an average. Our carrying capacity is 1800 people per night while day visitors are nine times more than those staying for night,” he said.
He said that the tourism stakeholders are trying to compensate for the losses made in the past three decades.
“Tourism reduces the unemployment rate, helps people from lower strata to the highest level. Drivers, waiters, shop owners, salesmen, and even our sister stakeholders like Kashmir handicrafts and horticulture industry like dry fruits and saffron are positively benefiting from tourism.”
Tourism was the main industry in J&K with lakhs of people associated with this industry, however in the peak of militancy the industry witnessed huge downfall, hotels got closed and people became jobless with very few tourists coming to Kashmir due to fear of militancy.
Now the revival is on its way and more and more tourists could be seen in Kashmir even at the remote places where tourists never dared to go. Even the arrival of foreign tourists to Kashmir has started picking up gradually. In the first 10 months of this year nearly 15 thousand foreign tourists visited Kashmir and stakeholders hoped the trend would further pick up.