Against the backdrop of an 87% dip in tourist footfall after Article 370 was scrapped in Kashmir, as per the Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Department’s figures, participants at the J&K stall at SATTE (South Asian Trade and Travel Exchange) 2020 appeared dejected, saying the recent months have seen them being “choked financially”.
SATTE is considered among the biggest tourism marts in the region, with participants from over 50 countries and 28 Indian states this time. Each year, the J&K Tourism Department brings its leading tour operators, houseboat owners, hotel associations and travel agents for the event. It’s a different story this time. As per the state’s tourism department, which is hosting the stall, 32,000 domestic tourists visited Kashmir between August and November, compared to 2.49 lakh in June-July.
Parvaiz Wani, who owns a medium-segment hotel in Srinagar, said, “Hotels, huts and guesthouses have been shut since the development. Occupancy is almost nil.” Wani said in the absence of internet, the situation is unlikely to change. “Places like Gulmarg, Pahalgam would be booked through winter; now they are mostly empty. Tourist families don’t feel safe and connected as long as something as basic as internet is missing.”
The owner of a luxury houseboat in Srinagar, who did not wish to be named, said, “The Centre’s plan is perhaps to choke us financially; they know tourism is our biggest source of revenue and that has been completely hit. The revenue loss is huge.”
But the team of J&K Tourism Department, led by Director Nisar Wani, appeared more optimistic. Deepika K Sharma, director, tourism (Jammu), said, “Despite the volatile situation, J&K continues to enjoy the distinction of being one of the most sought-after holiday locales for nature and adventure lovers”.
The three-day event was inaugurated by Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel on Wednesday morning at Greater Noida’s India Expo Mart. In Parliament last month, the minister, in response to a question, said the number of tourists in Kashmir in September 2018 was 83,723, while it was 4,562 in September 2019.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh Radha Krishna Mathur inaugurated the Ladakh pavilion at the expo. This is the first time Ladakh has an independent stall at the event, after its newfound status as a UT. There was widespread participation by members of the travel-trade industry, such as All Ladakh Tour Operators Association and All Kargil Travel Trade Association.