The Valley is seeing a rise in adventure tourism, and it is emerging as a destination for weddings with hotels and guest houses running in full capacity
The tourism scenario in Kashmir is witnessing a turnaround with fresh snowfall in December and January luring more tourists to the Valley.
According to the state’s tourism department, Kashmir saw as many as 40,000 tourists in the last two months. For December 2018, the footfall was around 28,000 while for January it was close to 13,000.
Talking to Moneycontrol, Asif Iqbal Burza, MD of Ahad Hotels and Resorts and President of Pahalgam Hotel Association, said, “We have been working hard to change the perception about tourism in the Valley. All tourists who visit the Valley become our brand ambassadors, helping us a great deal.”
In addition, the tourism department organises campaigns across India to promote winter tourism in Jammu and Kashmir, providing additional aid in improving footfall in the region.
“Compared to last year, this winter season has been much better. We have been blessed with much more snowfall this year which has again attracted tourists in large numbers,” Burza said.
According to reports, Kashmir witnessed a sharp decline in the number of tourists last year with 8.5 lakh domestic and foreign tourists visiting the Valley. This has been the lowest footfall in Kashmir in the last seven years – a decline of 23 percent from 2017. Judging in terms of occupancy in hotels, it has been in the range of 10-20 percent in the last two years.
However, a good winter and the tourism department’s efforts seem to be bearing fruit. The Valley is seeing a rise in adventure tourism, and it is emerging as a destination for weddings with hotels and guest houses filled full capacity.
Kashmir distinguishes itself in terms of adventure tourism courtesy 'white gold'– the fresh snow in the Himalayan state. In India, there are only three acknowledged areas for skiing, the largest being Gulmarg in Kashmir.
“Adventure tourism is picking up. Traditionally, Gulmarg has been known as an adventure tourism destination for skiing. But now, places like Pahalgam and Sonmarg are emerging as adventure tourist spots where besides skiing, one can indulge in a lot of other adventure activities like sledging, short winter trekking trails, snow tubing, winter camping,” Burza told Moneycontrol.
Earlier in February, an Australian couple chose Kashmir as their wedding destination, which put the spotlight back on the valley. Pictures of the wedding went viral, reviving interest in Kashmir and boosting the morale of the tourism industry. Former chief minister Omar Abdullah had also tweeted saying "Gulmarg’s historic church will play a host to another wedding after 30 years".
Elucidating on the point Burza said, “A lot of people from coastal areas want to experience winter climate and snow, which has become a huge attraction. In addition to the natural landscape, tourists also want to experience local culture and cuisine.” Kashmir, which is rich in culture as well as cuisine has the potential to become the most sought-after wedding destination, he added.
While the tourism ministry of the state is implementing a slew of measures to improve tourism in the Valley, a lot more developmental steps need to be taken to boost tourism.
According to Burza, “The biggest support we expect from the government is the waiver of GST (Goods and Services Tax) in the tourism segment. Kashmir being a high-cost destination due to non-availability of a rail link and its geography, additional taxes make it more expensive as compared to our competitor states.”
“Before GST was implemented, all taxes on accommodation were exempted enabling us to factor in the high cost of operations here,” he explained.He also said the Valley needs infrastructure support in terms of uninterrupted power supply, increased air and road connectivity.