Press Trust of india

Over 8 lakh tourists visited Kashmir in 2018; revellers throng Gulmarg

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Srinagar, Dec 30:  New Year revellers are thronging Kashmir's ski-resort at Gulmarg, known as 'Switzerland of Asia', with the hotels at famous winter destination fully booked, bringing cheer to the tourism players in the Valley.

As such there has been an improvement in tourist arrivals this year, with over 8 lakh people including 50,000 foreigners visiting the Valley.

The Director of Tourism, Nisar Wani also expressed hope of a good year in terms of the number of arrivals in 2019.

"The large number of arrivals this season is good news for the tourism sector in Kashmir valley as well as the department. We have had around 8.5 lakh tourist arrivals, including about 50,000 foreigners in 2018 and we are expecting very good arrivals from different parts of the country as well as abroad in the next year,” Wani said.

The tourist resort of Gulmarg at an altitude of 8,000 feet, 50 km north of summer capital Srinagar, is full of people and the hotels there have registered cent percent booking till the first week of January.

“Gulmarg is full, there is total occupancy in the hotels at the resort,” Director Tourism, Kashmir, Wani said.

Often described as the 'heartland of winter sports in India', this year again Gulmarg will play host to a number of activities as part of the winter games beginning Monday.

"The events include skiing, snow cycling, ice skating, snow-sculptor activity, sledge-race and others. Then there will also be a cultural programme in the evening to welcome the New Year," Wani said.

Before the onset of militancy, Gulmarg, declared as the Winter Games Capital of India by Winter Games Federation, used to witness large-scale celebrations on Christmas and New Year eve, offering best slopes for amateur and professional skiers, who weaved their magic on ice much to the delight of spectators.

However, the arrivals dropped due to violence.

In the recent years, the successive state governments have toiled hard to change the perception about the Valley and attract a large number of tourists.

To some extent, they have been successful, but the tourism players feel a lot more needs to be done to uplift the industry.

Asif Burza, a young hotelier, who is managing director of Ahad Hotels and Resorts – a reputed chain of hotels across various destinations in the valley – feels it is a crucial time for the tourism industry in Kashmir and as such the government needs to do more to enable the players here to compete with other destinations.

"This year, especially the holiday season around Christmas and New Year, has been good compared to the last couple of years. But, a lot more needs to be done to sustain the influx of tourists to the valley so as to have a prolonged season,” Burza said.

He attributed the good arrivals this season to efforts of the government as well as the tourism players in changing the perception of the valley among the intended visitors.

“We have full occupancy in Gulmarg and surprisingly very good rush in Pahalgam. Srinagar is also doing good. The Christmas and New Year week has been very good and much better than what was in the last couple of years. This is largely because of the efforts to change the perception about Kashmir and overall, generally people have started to realise that the perception created about the valley is wrong,” he said.

Burza, who is also the president of Pahalgam Hoteliers and Restaurant Owners Association, said while the holiday season sees a tourist rush, the challenge is to sustain it.

“Tourism survives when there is a sustained season. This industry is on a ventilator right now, because the cost of operations is very high. Plus, they have put a burden of very high GST slab on tourism. So, government has to really think. They need to protect our industry, they need to give a cushion to the industry so that we are able to compete with other destinations.”

What could help attract more tourists to Kashmir over the next three months is a good snowfall. While the higher reaches of the valley, including Gulmarg, are covered with snow, the possibility of white flakes from the sky in the coming days is expected to add to the beauty.

The MET department has forecast rains or snowfall at fairly widespread places in Kashmir over most part of the next week, which could add extra zing to the New Year celebrations.

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