By Bappaditya Chatterjee
Kolkata, Feb 27 (IANS) Uncertainty clouds trips to the picturesque Kashmir Valley with tour operators witnessing cancellations of advance bookings while new bookings have dried up following the Pulwama terror attack that killed 40 CRPF troopers in Jammu & Kashmir.
Hoteliers and travel agents in the Valley, however, are optimistic about the tourist arrivals in the coming months despite escalating tension after the air strike by Indian Air Force (IAF) on the biggest training camp of terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“As far as retail tourism is concerned, Kashmir will remain a doubtful destination till the overall situation improves. People would not like to go there as long as tension prevails. There may be 10-15 per cent cancellations but overall cancellations in bookings so far are minimal. But no new bookings for Kashmir are being made,” Indian Association of Tour Operators President Pronab Sarkar told IANS on the phone.
There is a possibility that people who have planned to visit the Valley in the summer months may cancel their bookings, he said, adding more “cancellation could happen gradually”.
“People have booked flight or train tickets and made bookings for accommodation in advance. Many tourists have their bookings (for package tours in the Valley) and are at present waiting and watching because they will have to incur losses in case of cancellations,” Sarkar said.
Travel Agents’ Federation of Eastern India Chairman Anil Punjabi said the Pulwama terror attack will have “a negative impact on tourists” planning to visit the Valley in the upcoming summer and it will play in their minds even for intended Kashmir tours during the coming winter.
“People will not like to travel to the Valley without their peace of mind. Roughly about 800-1200 bookings for trips to the Valley have been reportedly cancelled across our members in the eastern region,” Punjabi told IANS.
Given the critical situation in the Valley, Ravinder Singh, a travel agent based in Jammu city, told IANS: “About 50 per cent of my bookings for package tours in March and April have already been cancelled.”
He, however, hoped the situation would improve during the summer months.
Sheikh Umar, representing Hotel The Kaiser in Srinagar at the TTF Summer Kolkata, told IANS: “We condemn the attack and there are reports of cancellations of bookings. But we are hopeful that tourists will come to the Valley as we have got good responses across cities even after the attack.”
“Tourists are safe in the Valley,” he claimed.
Following the terror attack, tourists who had plans to visit the Kashmir Valley in the summer have started tweaking their plans to visit other other cooler places.
“We’ve started getting more enquiries for other cooler places in Himachal Pradesh and the northeastern states. Travellers are also taking quotations for cooler places other than Kashmir. The Kashmir valley seems to be out of the map for many tourists for this summer and it also seems that they do not want to take any chances,” Punjabi said.
However, tour operators and travel agents also said many tourists are taking their time to firm up their decisions and probably would take a final call after the school and board examinations are over.
According to Punjabi, tourists are also waiting for the announcement of the entire schedule of the upcoming general elections.
He also said hoteliers and tour operators in the Valley might opt for discounts on package and have kept their fingers crossed for the situation to normalise.
According to Sarkar, tourist arrivals had been growing in the Valley till the disastrous flood in 2014 and it took a year to revive.
“Even after the Uri attack, there was not much adverse impact (in terms of tourists’ arrivals) but the recent Pulwama attack has put a question mark,” he said.
Hit by the unrest and terror activities, the adorable piece of land, popularly known as “Heaven on Earth” has continuously been losing its “priority status” among tourists as a destination, tour managers felt.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Annual Report for 2017-18, the fiscal “witnessed a 6.21 per cent increase and 166.66 per cent increase in the number of terrorist incidents and fatalities of civilians respectively in comparison to the corresponding period of 2016”.
(Bappaditya Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])