Tourism has been the most important source of income and employment for the northern valley of Kashmir. The agricultural sector ranks second as far as income generation is concerned.
The current critical political situation is severely limiting the scope of tourism-driven earnings in Jammu and Kashmir. A near total shutdown has greatly affected the tourism industry. Till date, only post-paid mobile phone services have been restored in the valley.
There is widespread apprehension among tourists regarding the situation in Kashmir and that is a major impediment to the region’s tourism industry. Additionally, travel agencies are not showing interest in arranging tours to the region.
Srinagar, Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg, Yusmarg, Aharbal, Verinag are the most popular tourist destinations in Kashmir and are now nearly devoid of vacationers. It is a quite dampening development as around `82.01 crore was released through various central agencies for improvement of tourism infrastructure in region in the current fiscal.
Sagnik Chowdhury, Regional Director, East, India Tourism, told BE, “The condition in Kashmir is under pressure and tourists are likely to avoid it now. We still have not heard any confirmed regulation or planning from the government aimed at restoring the tourism sector in Kashmir.”
As per a recent announcement by the Advisor to the Governor, Khurshid Ganai, the number of domestic and foreign tourists visiting Kashmir had gone down to 8.5 lakh in 2018 - the lowest in the last seven years, showing a decline of 23% from 2017. Despite a number of promotional events by the tourism department, the situation went from bad to worse. The withdrawal of the Article 370 and the related political unrest has pushed the already weakening tourism sector to a new low in Kashmir.
Anustup Roy, a Bengali tourist who recently visited Kashmir, told BE, “The situation in the valley is worsening daily and no tourist seems to visit the town areas. Only the popular places for adventure tourism are attracting some tourists as of now. People who are in the tourism business seem to be in a tough spot.”
Earnings from tourism
There is a positive impact of tourist inflow on employment and that is especially true for a tourism dependent region like Kashmir. With an increase in tourist arrivals, there is a corresponding increase in employment and economic activities. Tourism contributes around 8% to the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to industry estimates, in 2016, the former state of Jammu and Kashmir had recorded 1,299,112 tourists and the sector employed over 100,000 people directly and indirectly. With rising political unrest following the abolition of Article 370, the number of people employed in the tourism sector has been steadily declining. This has led to a situation of economic stagnation in the region.
According to many industry insiders, the year 2011 was the last good year for the tourism industry. Since then, there has been a downhill trend. The recent political move by the central government seems to have dealt the last body blow to the tourism sector in Kashmir and its revival seems to be a long call.