SRINAGAR – This spring, if tourists do not arrive in Kashmir in large numbers, Ghulam Jeelani, 52, could well lose his job. The manager of a hotel in Srinagar’s tourist hub, Boulevard Road bordering the Dal Lake, has been warned by his employer.
Tourist arrivals in Kashmir fell after the Centre abolished its semi-autonomous status on August 5, 2019, and followed this with a communication clampdown in anticipation of unrest. While security restrictions were relaxed amid heavy troop deployment, the internet shutdown has yet to be lifted after nearly six months.
Following a Supreme Court order on January 10, 2019, the government announced it would restore 2G mobile data on post-paid mobile phones in all districts in Kashmir. But access was only allowed to a whitelist of websites as per the order, leaving internet curbs largely unchanged.
Just the day before August 5, 2019, Jeelani’s hotel – he did not wish it to be named – was almost fully booked. Of its 88 rooms, 63 were reserved. The day after the abrogation announcement, the bookings fell to three and have not risen beyond that number to date. Some days it does not have a single guest, Jeelani said.
In 2018, Kashmir had received 316,434 tourists between August and December. In 2019, this number fell to 43,059 for the same period, a decline of 86%, showed tourism department data accessed by IndiaSpend.
In July 2019, Kashmir received 152,525 tourists but August 2019 saw only 10,130 arrivals and most of them in the first few days of the month. This number further fell to 4,562 in September 2019, and grew to 12,086 in November 2019.
“The number slightly improved in November during the winter games at Gulmarg,” a tourism official said. In December 2019, the numbers again fell to 6,954.
Despite this slump, on November 19, 2019, Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel maintained that the state’s tourism had not been impacted by the Centre’s moves. Patel, while answering a question in Parliament, had clubbed together tourism figures for Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu draws pilgrims in large numbers to its Vaishno Devi shrine.
The communications blockade in the state has impacted it on multiple fronts, affecting enterprise, people’s access to critical health services and their mental health, as IndiaSpend reported in a series in September 2019. Tourism accounts for 7% of the state’s gross domestic product.
To assess the impact of the conditions following the orders of August 5, 2019, IndiaSpend analysed comparative figures for tourist arrivals in the valley during 2019 and 2018. In August and September 2018, 85,534 and 103,195 tourists, respectively, visited Kashmir. In 2019 these figures stood at 10,130 and 4,562 – an 88% and 95% drop, respectively.
Comparable data for other months are shown in the table below.