Kashmir tourism sector in dire straits

Empty hotels and desolate houseboats marked the World Tourism Day today in Kashmir where tourism sector is in dire straits for at least a year.

The UN commemorates September 27 as the World Tourism Day. According to hospitality players here, there is total decline in tourism business with alarming rate of job losses since the outbreak of COVID19.

Bashir Ahmad, an hotelier, said: “Last year I raised a bank loan hoping to repay it, but following August 2019 the tourist arrivals have come down drastically, and since the outbreak of COVID there are zero arrivals.”

Ahmad, who owns a 40-bedded hotel near famed Dal Lake said: “From 70 employees, I have now just four who are mainly entrusted with the job of gate keeping.”

Ahmad’s story is shared by every stakeholder in the tourism sector. “Hardly a visitor comes to take a shikara ride, we are doomed. The lockdown started at a time when the tourist arrival start picking up. It ensured that nobody visits Kashmir. We are doing menial jobs to feed our family; sometimes I sell vegetables and other times I work as a labourer,” Ghulam Hasan Karnai, a shikarawalla said.

President, Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners’ Federation, Abdul Wahid Malik said, “With no income coming, our losses are accumulating.”

Malik alleged that the government has even failed to release payments to them for the period their hotels were occupied for COVID purposes.

Former tourism body head, Faiz Bakshi said that the post August 5, 2019 clampdown dealt a lethal blow to, and COVID-19 was the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the tourism industry. He said that “some” may customarily celebrate the World Tourism Day but the condition of the tourism stakeholders in Kashmir who depend on this sector for their livelihood is pitiable.

He said a ponywala has nothing to feed his family, let alone his horse. “Same is the condition of hoteliers, tour operators, handcraft sellers, boat owners, etc,” he said.

“A recent so-called package which was thoughtlessly welcomed by a few traders’ leaders had nothing in it for the tourism sector. There is only lip service and promises for the future. The people need to know the truth.”