Srinagar: A record-breaking 20.5 lakh tourists, including 3.65 lakh Amarnath yatris, visited Kashmir in the first eight months of this year, drawing visitors from all over the nation to the gorgeous and picturesque Valley.
After three decades, Kashmir is attracting hordes of tourists, and experts say that the golden era of Kashmir tourism when it was a popular destination for visitors, has returned.
A total of 16.84 lakh tourists, including foreign visitors, visited Kashmir till August end of this year, a top Tourism Department official told Greater Kashmir.
About 10,500 of the 16.84 lakh tourists are foreigners.
He said that this year, 3.65 lakh Amarnath yatris also travelled to Kashmir.
When these figures are added to the total number of visitors, the Valley has had nearly 20.49 lakh visitors.
He said that the 2 million tourists represent an all-time high for Kashmir and predicted future growth. The Valley's tourist sites such as Pahalgam, Gulmarg, and Sonamarg as well as all hotels and guesthouses in Srinagar experienced 100 percent occupancy.
In Srinagar, the occupancy rate for houseboats was between 70 and 80 percent.
Tourists are flocking back to Kashmir in unprecedented numbers, three years after New Delhi revoked the region's special status.
Post-COVID, the sector has recovered brilliantly in recent months with up to 10,000 people — largely from other areas of India - travelling on up to 100 flights per day to Srinagar's airport.
In the first six months of this year, the federal government reported 10.6 million visitor visits to J&K.
The high influx of tourists has bought smiles back to the faces of the tourism stakeholders who are hopeful that the number of tourists would increase further in the coming months.
Speaking to Greater Kashmir, Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Hoteliers Club Mushtaq Chaya expressed satisfaction over the influx of tourists and said that Kashmir's tourism industry was back on track thanks to the combined efforts of the government and tourism stakeholders.
“It is encouraging news for the industry that, after horticulture, it creates the biggest percentage of jobs in J&K. We are confident that the government will continue to aggressively promote Kashmir tourism to increase the number of visitors to Kashmir. Our industry has sustained significant losses over the last few years. The players in the tourism industry need support and the government needs to play a bigger part in this,” he said.
Chaya said that the government should also take into consideration problems faced by the hotel industry and address them as a priority to give the tourism sector a boost.
“Now, there is a need to focus on infrastructure and also initiate measures to attract tourists from foreign countries as well,” he said.
President of Jammu and Kashmir Hotels and Restaurant Association Showkat Chowdhary told Greater Kashmir that the government should concentrate on the infrastructure component as well.
“Hotel rooms are in short supply due to the influx of tourists. The government has recently permitted homestays, which is a positive move, but more has to be done. We cannot raise our hotel capacity within days. This will be a short-term strategy to provide a hassle-free stay for our guests. I feel that the government should permit the construction of high-end tents for tourists that have all conveniences available for the visitors,” he said.