Kashmir sees rise in tourist influx, but stakeholders keeping fingers crossed
Hoteliers say with the start of Chillai Kalan, the harshest period of winter in Kashmir, the arrivals as well as bookings have increased manifold
After the lean first half of December, tourists have again started arriving in good numbers in Kashmir to celebrate Christmas and New Year, but the stakeholders are keeping their fingers crossed considering the Covid threat.
Hoteliers say with the start of Chillai Kalan, the harshest period of winter in Kashmir, the arrivals as well as bookings have increased manifold. The weather office has predicted light snowfall over the higher reaches by year-end.
Most of the tourists are heading towards the ski resort of Gulmarg nestled in the Pir Panjal range in the Himalayas of north Kashmir. Virgin peaks, pine forests and snow meadows define the cup-shaped valley of Gulmarg.
“Gulmarg is doing well now. From December 21 to January 3, the bookings are more than 80%. The first three weeks of December were not so enthusiastic,” said Akib Chaya, president of Gulmarg chapter of J&K Hoteliers Club. “We will have Christmas and New Year celebrations, dinners and festivities,” he added.
He said the tourism department promoted Kashmir vigorously this year. “For the first time, even south Kashmir’s Pahalgam has become a winter tourist destination,” he added.
However, he was apprehensive of the possible Covid impact. “So far, we are not seeing any issues but if cases rise, we will have a deep impact here,” Chaya said.
This year, tourism officials said that Kashmir valley has witnessed a record arrival of tourists after decades. They say 26 lakh tourists, including 3.5 lakh Amarnath yatris, visited the Valley till December 21.
Figures shared by director tourism Faz Lul Haseeb revealed that the highest grossing months were April (2.72 lakh), May (3.75 lakh) and June (3.33 lakh) while in lean months, there were 62,000 arrivals in January, one lakh arrivals in February and 1.05 lakh in December (up to December 21).
“The numbers are increasing in December for Christmas and New Year,” Haseeb confirmed.
Tourism department’s assistant director for publicity, Zeeshan Khan, said 5,000-6,000 tourists are daily arriving now and they will wait for a few days to check if Covid has any effect.
“On the tourism front, there is so much going on. However, I am a little sceptical owing to Covid reports. We will have to observe the situation for the next few days. If nothing happens, then we are completely booked,” he added.