SRINAGAR: Tourists are heading to Kashmir in droves to celebrate Christmas and welcome the New Year, with hotels at destinations like Gulmarg and Pahalgam in the valley sold out in anticipation of snowfall.
Officials said tourists are making a beeline to Kashmir, especially to the famous ski resort of Gulmarg, in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, and Pahalgam, in south Kashmir’s Anantnag.
Describing it a positive indication, Tourism Secretary Syed Abid Rasheed Shah said he was confident that the winter months would be successful for Kashmir’s tourism.
“The way the numbers and trends are coming, with both domestic as well as foreign tourists, my expectation is that the winters will be a grand success. Destinations like Gulmarg and Pahalgam are already sold out. Gulmarg is totally sold out for Christmas and the New Year’s Eve. This is a very positive indication,” he said.
Gulmarg, the tourist destination at an altitude of 8,000 feet, 50 km north of summer capital Srinagar, is also known as the ‘Switzerland of Asia’.
Shah said warm hospitality of the people of Kashmir and all the stakeholders have played an important role in reviving tourism.
The tourism department has lined up various activities to enrich the experience of New Year revellers as a number of programmes have been planned for the New Year’s Eve, including a musical evening, a firecracker show, night skiing, and torch skiing.
Asif Burza, a young hotelier who is the managing director of Ahad Hotels and Resorts – a chain of hotels across various destinations in the valley – said the recent snowfall has increased tourist influx to Kashmir.
“The tourist arrivals and bookings are looking great. Hotels in Gulmarg are fully booked, while occupancy in Pahalgam and even in Srinagar is very good,” Burza told PTI.
He said the tourism players are expecting the footfall to improve further with snowfall in the coming days.
“Hotels are fully booked for the last ten days of December and the first week of January,” he added.
Rauf Tramboo, the president of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), said the bookings for December-end and January were very good.
The numbers for Christmas and New Year are very good. The bookings are better than the last year. A good number of tourists are visiting the valley,” he said.
He said while there was full occupancy in Gulmarg, the numbers were better for Pahalgam and Srinagar as well.
The TAAK president said Kashmir has become an all-weather destination and tourist arrivals have stretched all year round.
“This year, the tourism season for Kashmir has extended to eight-nine months, unlike before when it was for two-three months only,” he said. Attributing the increase in tourist arrivals to the change in the narrative around Kashmir over the last few years, Tramboo expressed hope the industry will develop on a positive note and a huge influx of tourists will be seen in the next year, especially with Kashmir getting connected to the railway map of the country.
He said a good number of foreign tourists were also showing a keen interest in Kashmir and if the travel advisories by some countries are lifted, “we could become the number one travel destination in the country”.
However, hotelier Burza said domestic tourists matter the most for the economy as they have good capacity to pay.
“The paying capacity of domestic tourists has increased and they have contributed to economy. The tourism that matters, that contributes to the economy, is domestic tourism because domestic tourists have a good capacity to pay and spend not only on hotels, but local arts and crafts as well,” he said.
The hotelier said Kashmir is the preferred destination for high-end domestic tourists.
Crediting the support from the film industry, as many movies and TV series have been shot in the valley in recent times, for an increasing influx of tourists, Burza expressed hope of an increased footfall in the coming weeks.
“We are getting a good support from the film fraternity. Leo, which has done well at the box office, was shot at Pahalgam for two months. Many more projects are lined up and that is giving us hope for the last quarter of the financial year,” he said.
Secretary of the tourism department there is a lot of positivity around tourism in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Many new destinations of Kashmir have received awards and appreciations this year. So, there is a huge positivity, there is a huge element of hope and growth and development in the tourism sector.”
“Tourism is going to the places which are off-beat destinations and people from all over the world are going there. Trekking has been revived. People are now visiting many such destinations where they were not going before. We have also promoted border tourism at a larger scale,” Shah said.
He said the winter season is one of the core focus areas, and other than Gulmarg which is the famous winter destination of the country, this time the department is focusing in a big way on destinations like Sonamarg, Doodhpatri, Bhaderwah, and Sanasar.
“We are focussing on diversification of the tourism portfolio in terms of products of tourism, destinations, and in terms of improving the livelihoods of the people,” Shah added.