Tourism becomes latest casualty in Jammu and Kashmir amid India-Pakistan tension and 'boycott Kashmiri' calls

With no intervention by the Jammu and Kashmir administration to dispel fear among people and encourage good footfall for the future, both domestic and foreign tourists are unlikely to book tickets to the state.

FP Staff March 06, 2019 11:35:36 IST
Tourism becomes latest casualty in Jammu and Kashmir amid India-Pakistan tension and 'boycott Kashmiri' calls
  • Post Pulwama, several nations such as the US, United Kingdom and Australia have advised tourists travelling to India to exercise caution

  • The advisories have said how while flights have resumed operations in parts of northern India, the situation still remains fluid

  • Many long haul flights to European nations are also facing delays because they have to bypass the Pakistani airspace

Kashmir has 'shrunk into a mailbox' for many who were planning to visit its majestic snow-capped mountains and carpeted valleys this year. The Valley is restive, yet again, and among the many casualties of the heightened India-Pakistan tension and calls for Kashmir boycott is Jammu and Kashmir's tourism itself — one which significantly contributes more than 8 percent to the state's Gross Domestic Product.

Things began to look bleak soon after the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February, in which 40 CRPF troopers were killed by a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) suicide bomber. Tension between the two nations further escalated after the Indian Air Force's air strikes on a JeM's training camp at Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on 26 February. A day later, Pakistani fighter jets violated Indian airspace in Nowshera sector of Jammu and Kashmir's Rajouri district and IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was subsequently captured and later released.

Tourism becomes latest casualty in Jammu and Kashmir amid IndiaPakistan tension and boycott Kashmiri calls

Representative photo. Getty Images

Indian authorities had immediately ordered a partial shutdown of the airspace north of New Delhi, and Kashmiri hoteliers were quick to react, offering free stay and food to stranded tourists. Even though the order of airspace closure was reversed hours later, the hoteliers already knew that fear and tourism barely go hand-in-hand. To make matters worse, the media's constant glare on 'Kashmir burning' and some overzealous war warriors left little room for people to plan that Summer trip to this beautiful state.

With no intervention by the Jammu and Kashmir administration to dispel fear among people and encourage good footfall for the future, both domestic and foreign tourists are unlikely to book those tickets.

Travel advisories by foreign countries

After the Pulwama terror attack, several nations, including the US, United Kingdom and Australia, advised their nationals travelling to India to exercise caution, even as they asked the tourists to not travel to Jammu and Kashmir. The advisories said cautioned that flights may have resumed operations in parts of northern India, but the situation was still fluid. Many long-haul flights to European nations were also facing delays because they had to bypass the Pakistani airspace.

In a security alert on 27 February, the US embassy in New Delhi asked Americans to "maintain a low profile", "avoid all demonstrations" and "monitor local media for security updates". It further wrote: "The department... wishes to remind US citizens of its strong recommendation that you avoid travel to Jammu and Kashmir (with the exception of visits to the eastern Ladakh region and its capital, Leh) because of the potential for terrorist incidents, as well as violent public unrest."

Similarly, the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office also updated its foreign travel advise on India. It had advised against all but essential travel to Srinagar and between the cities of Jammu and Srinagar, such as Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg, along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway. The advisory said: "Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in India. Recent attacks have targeted public places including those visited by foreigners."

Likewise, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised its citizens "against all travel" to "J&K (except Ladakh region)" because of high risks. "Think seriously about whether you need to travel here due to the high level of risk. If you do travel, do your research and take a range of extra safety precautions, including having contingency plans. Check that your travel insurer will cover you."

Kashmiri hospitality

Known for their hospitality, lush valleys and cuisine, tourism in Jammu and Kashmir has always been one of its most profitable avenues. Ironically, the state's economy is also most hurt due to violence and bloodshed. Until 1988, the state was a 'strong favourite' among domestic and foreign tourists, with over 7,00,000 arrivals, reported the Hindustan Times. But things took a turn for the worse around 1989, when armed violence swept the Valley, and tourist arrivals dropped by 2,00,000.

The trend in the past three years has been no better. Arrivals have been on a steady decline since 2016 due to political unrest. In 2018, the state witnessed the lowest arrival of tourists in seven years — only 8.5 lakh domestic and foreign visitors visited the Valley, a decline of 23 percent from 2017, reported The Asian Age.

This year, too, it seems, the situation is unlikely to improve.

#BoycottKashmir, really?

If violence, hatred and insecurity was not enough, a few propagandists have tried to unite people with a common agenda of excluding Kashmir — culturally, socially and economically — by making calls for boycotting Kashmir and Kashmiris.

Shiv Sena legislator and spokesperson Manisha Kayande wanted to hurt the state's economic resources by having people boycott it. It is a state, she said, where "youth, women and children pelt stones on security forces".

Five days after the Pulwama attack, Meghalaya governor Tathagata Roy asked for a blanket boycott of "everything Kashmiri". Roy also asked people to not visit Kashmir or Amarnath for the next two years. The governor's comments came amid reports of threats being issued to Kashmiri people, especially students, in several parts of the country.

It is no wonder that people planning vacations to this wonderland have cancelled or refused to go ahead with their bookings. Romil Pant, senior vice president of leisure travel at Thomas Cook, was as saying by The Economic Times that customers were opting for a change in destination.

In another report by The Times of India, it was stated that footfall of people from Indore to Kashmir had dropped to as much as 70 percent after the Pulwama suicide bombing.

Considering these negative comments, 18 Kashmir-based trade and tourism bodies, including the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as hotel houseboat and tour operator associations, issued a joint statement recently, asking the government to take all measures required to bring tourism and other sectors of the economy back on track. They also said it was unfortunate how some TV channels and print media had spread false and misleading news about the state.

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