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Slump in tourist arrivals in Kashmir

A series of grenade attacks on tourists has forced them to change their destination from Kashmir to Simla and other places, reports Rashid Ahmad.

india Updated: May 07, 2007 20:37 IST

At a time when Jammu and Kashmir government is desperate to woo visitors to revive its ailing but all-important tourism industry, the central government is accused of playing spoilsport. A senior officer in the tourism department grumbled that the Ministry of Personnel Affairs withdrew Leave Travel Concession (LTA) to the employees wishing to visit Kashmir.



“Central government employees used to visit Kashmir in large numbers. They used to get travel concession for visiting Kashmir. Ministry of Personnel Affairs however withdrew this facility, last year”. He said that the facility has not been withdrawn to the employees wishing to other places. “Dropping Kashmir from the facility-list is very unfortunate. It has badly affected the inflow of tourists to Kashmir”, he regretted. The official said that they took up the matter with the central government but of no avail.



The tourism industry in Kashmir is presently passing through a slump with few visitors making Kashmir their destination. The official figures suggest that as against 172,000 visitors (both domestic and foreign) by April-end in 2006, just 72,000 tourists have visited Kashmir in this period this year.



“It is a depressing situation. The houseboats are empty, shikara rovers idle and taxi-owners desperately looking for guests”, says Azeem Toman, chairman of Houseboat Owners’ association. “We have invested huge money in decking up and decorating our houseboats. But many of us still even wait for the first guest to come”, he claims adding “we are unable to understand why tourists are not coming”.



The assertions are not altogether misplaced. The silence on the otherwise busy Buolevard along the Dal Lake gives one enough idea about the dwindle in tourist arrivals. Most of the houseboats and hotels are empty. "We used to have advance bookings. All the rooms of our hotel are empty this time", said Muneer Ahmad a manager of a hotel in the Dal Lake.



Senior officials in the tourism department were expecting a booming tourist season this year. “Given the heavy inflow in winter, we were expecting over 1 million visitors this year”, said an official, “but it is really disappointing”. Farooq Ahmad Shah, director of Tourism department agrees that the tourist influx was not encouraging. “But we hope it will improve”, he says.



“We have started golf tournaments and water sports this year to attract tourists. We expect them to come in large numbers”, claims Shah. Tourism Minister Dilawar Mir on Sunday inaugurated a high profile one-day golf tournament involving 92 CEOs of big business houses. Cricket legend Kapil Dev and former beauty queen and Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra were the star attraction in the tournament. The tourism department is launching a campaign in Kolkata to attract tourists from that region. Chief minister Ghulam Nabbi Azad is likely to participate in the campaign. But few people think that this could end the slump in tourist arrivals.



They argue that a series of grenade attacks on tourists, last year, has forced most of the visitors to change their destination from Kashmir to Simla and other places. They say that Simla and Pondicherri have become the new hubs of tourists. Around 15 tourists were killed and over 60 wounded in a various grenades attacks in Srinagar, last year.