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Tourism badly hit in floods

india Updated: Sep 28, 2014 19:25 IST
Toufiq Rashid

It was around the same time last year S Hussain had to renovate all the 30 rooms of his budget hotel around the Dal Lake after a short circuit caused fire. A year later, the fresh wall paper, silk curtains, furniture and upholstery are all mud. The first two storeys of his hotel went under water, the moment Jhelum made way into the Dal Lake.

"We were hopeful of a good season and even had one, but now don't know when will the tourists return to Kashmir," he said.
With areas like Lal Chowk, Rajbagh, boulevard devastated by floods, the hope of tourist returning to the Valley this year seems bleak.

According to officials, more than 25,000 tourists were rescued from the devastating floods from various parts of the Valley when the Jhelum breached its banks and water spread into the Valley on September 5.
According to official estimates, the tourism sector has seen `1700 crore loss after the floods. While thousands of hotels were damaged mostly in the posh Rajbagh and boulevard area, houseboat owners will require money to repair the damaged boats.

Meanwhile, the tour operators have seen massive cancellations since floods hit the Valley.
Nazir Bakshi, owner of one of the oldest tour and travel companies, Sheraz Travels, says he had to refund over `1 rore for the month of October. "My clients are asking me if it's safe to come to Kashmir, I say no. If we have not been able to move back to our homes, how can hotels be safe,'' he said.

A few weeks back hunt for a budget hotel in Kashmir was a herculean task as hotels were booked for months in advance. More than 5 lakh tourists had visited the Valley in the first half of the year.

Tourism had seen a massive revival in the last few years. While 2012 was the most successful year in the history of tourism in Kashmir with 14 lakh tourists visiting the Valley, including 1.5 lakh foreigners, 2013 saw more than a million tourists in spite of the unrest following Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru's hanging in Delhi. As peace prevailed, even the bollywood was seen coming back to the Valley.
"The five star hotels have been saved but how many people stay there,'' Hussain said.

"At the moment entire Valley is in a mess. First of all, we have to rebuild the infrastructure. We can't even think of inviting tourists, if they come where would they stay. The hub of hotels Boulevard, Dalgate and Rajbagh are the flood-hit areas. "Even the major eateries and restaurants are in these areas besides the Lal Chowk,'' said Bakshi, who is also former president of the state chamber of commerce.

"The Centre should come forward to help the state in this trying times. It is not possible for the state to push itself towards development independently. Getting back tourism is a challenge,'' said Manzoor Ahmad, vice president Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation.

"We need to rebuild Srinagar, our airport, hotels, communication system, banks, hotels and houseboats -- everything is located here,'' he said.

In Dalgate, on the edge of the Dal Lake, the taxi drivers association also echoes the same opinion. "All the 27 taxis were completely submerged. We just left our vehicles and ran to safer places,'' said Bilal Ahmad, a taxi driver .According to him, workshops in the Valley have no places to keep the cars. "The cars are not starting, each vehicle owner will have to spend huge amount of money from his pocket,'' Bilal added.

The tourism sector, however, is hopeful that Kashmir will bounce back."We have seen the worst. We have to be honest and tell tourists to come only when we have our house in order. Insha Allah, next year we will bounce back,'' Bakshi said.
Concessions for tourism sector

The Jammu and Kashmir government is planning to seek from the Centre a slew of concessions, including income tax exemptions and interest-free loans for tourism sector that has suffered nearly rs1700 crore of losses due to the floods. According to sources, a proposal is to be submitted to the Centre for seeking some concessions for the tourism industry.
Reports said the department will seek interest-free one-year loans for those hotels, houseboats and guest houses which do not need much money for repairs and renovations.