Tour operators worried local polls during festive season will hit arrivals

Tour operators in Kashmir are worried that Panchayat and municipal elections schedule in the state coinciding with major Hindu festivals is likely to hit tourist inflow to Kashmir.
Tour operators worried local polls during festive season will hit arrivals
Representational Pic

Tour operators in Kashmir are worried that Panchayat and municipal elections schedule in the state coinciding with major Hindu festivals is likely to hit tourist inflow to Kashmir. 

The polls are scheduled in October and November, the two months when holidays around the festivals of Durga Pooja, Dusshera and Diwali will be celebrated which also mark substantial tourist arrivals in Kashmir.

Tour operators say apprehensions of violence during the elections would keep holidaymakers away and hurt their business. 

Javed Ahmad, a local tour operator from Soura who left a lucrative job in Delhi to start tour and travel business, is taken aback by the losses he has already suffered due to decline in tourist arrivals. 

Uncertainty caused by protests and high anxiety around challenges to Article 35A, and poll schedule has added to Ahmad's worries.  

"With the success of a national level conference at SKICC in March this year, I was hoping that visitors will visit us till end of 2018 and winter season of next year," Ahmad said, appealing authorities to put the elections off to until January when the winter tourist season is also over. 

"How can they hold polls in holiday season which will make us lose out tourists for several weeks of October and November."

Chairman PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (J&K Chapter), Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya said tourism sector which has been in dire straits since 2014 floods will be further hit if polls were held during autumn season. 

"Since we are aware that situation can become volatile during elections we also appeal the state government to persuade ECI for further postponement of polls," said Chaya, who also heads the JK Hoteliers Club. 

"The way we witnessed situation running out of hand during the polls last year had left a damaging effect on tourism and we don't want a repeat of that." 

Amid recently held Amarnath Yatra, tourism players had expressed concern that restrictions on tourist movement in Pahalgam and Sonamarg and even in parts of Srinagar had caused huge losses to them.

Both tourist arrivals and advance bookings to Kashmir had taken a hit after 22-year-old Tamil tourist Thirumani died during a stone throwing protest at Narbal outside Srinagar on May 8. 

Nasir Shah, chairman, J&K Pilgrimage and Lesiure Tour Operators Forum said the tourism sector in the Kashmir valley received a major setback due to the uncertain situation.

He said "untimely polls" will make matters worse. 

"An irreparable damage has been done to our tourism due to untoward incidents and the negative portrayal of Kashmir. The polls amid peak autumn will ruin the season," Shah said.                                                        

Kashmir witnessed brisk tourist arrivals in March and April this year as the Tulip Garden located in the summer capital recorded over 1.83 lakh footfalls including tourists from across the world. 

The tourist influx took a nosedive after incidents of stone pelting on tourists were reported by sections the national media. Frequent back-to-back encounters, restrictions and shutdowns had also put the tourism sector in dire straits.  

The much-hyped promotional campaign of Kashmir's tourism department projecting Kashmir as the "Warmest place on earth" has not had many takers as the situation in the Valley has been fragile ever since Hizb Commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter on July, 8 2016.

Director Tourism Kashmir, Tassaduq Jeelani said the department will be holding rigorous campaigns to attract maximum tourists to Valley.  

"After deep slump, there is need for much needed turnaround for Kashmir's tourism sector. Autumn and winter season is looking very promising but conducive situation is an important prerequisite to attract tourists here," Jeelani said.

Number of people from traditional tourist markets for the Valley, such as Gujarat and Maharashta has dwindled off late. 

Also, influenced by the 'negative publicity' of the Valley by national media tourists are giving Kashmir a miss. 

However, Jeelani says robust promotions can make a difference.

"This week I am going to visit Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. Then we will move to Bengaluru and Chennai to hold promotional events there. Apart from the local tour operators we would be inviting bloggers and journalists in these cities," Jeelani said. 

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