State's Tourism Prospects Take A Beating

15 September 2014
The Economic Times
Divya Sathyanarayanan & Ravi Teja Sharma

New Delhi: Kashmir won't be the destination of choice for many travellers during the upcoming Dussehra holidays and beyond. In the aftermath of the recent floods, the state could lose a major chunk of the tourism business, one of its main sources of revenue, as travel companies and agents cope with enquiries and cancellations for the coming months. Many fear the impact will be felt right up to next year. The valley town of Srinagar, the state's summer capital, was hit by the worst floods in five decades, denting its chances to become one of the favourite destinations for Indians and foreign travelers just as tourism to the area had been regaining popularity. Online travel portal Yatra.com has cancelled about 70% of the air and hotel bookings for September end and plans for the coming months look bleak as tourists wait to see how the situation pans out. Leisure travel firm TUI has seen a 75% drop in new bookings for Kashmir compared with the same period last year. WelcomHeritage Hotels, which has a franchise agreement with Gurkha Houseboats owned by the Kashmirbased Ghulam Wangnoo family, had all its bookings for next month cancelled. Travel companies and agents say the floods will have a negative impact not only in the coming months but also during the peak season between April and June next year. Apart from tourism, the floods have derailed industries such as textiles, handlooms and handicrafts, which are popular among tourists. 'Almost all sectors of business have been impacted. Don't know what will happen to small businessmen and the loans they have taken,' says Sameer Kaul, the chief national spokesperson for the Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu & Kashmir and a leading cancer surgeon. Shafi Goroo, managing director of Atsar Exports, which sells Kashmiri carpets and pashmina shawls in Delhi and abroad, says his manufacturing facility in Srinagar is totally destroyed. About 20% of the stock for his exports business came from his facility while the rest was sourced from artisans and weavers in the region. 'All that is gone for now. We don't know how it will be when the waters recede. I don't think there will be any business for the next 8-10 months,' he says. Many areas were flooded after heavy rain caused the Jhelum river and other water bodies to breach their embankments at several places. Power supplies and communications were disrupted as water levels rose to over three metres in Srinagar, the Dal Lake area, Anantnag, Pulwama and Baramulla, among others. 'We have 15 houseboats of our own at Dal Lake and at the moment, most of them have been impacted. Some houseboats, which were 50-70 years old, have been submerged and can be recovered only once the water recedes,' says Shah Nawaz Siah, director of sales and marketing at De-Laila Group of Houseboats. Siah expects at least 100 houseboats to be affected. Shahid Rah, owner of Lotus Retreat Group, which also has a fleet of houseboats on Dal Lake, is an anxious man. 'Houses of people have vanished. We don't know what is the situation of the houseboats on Dal and Nagin lakes,' says Rah, who is based in Delhi. 'We are more worried about our people back home. We are trying to find out if family and friends are safe.' Events scheduled in the state in September and the months ahead have been thrown out of gear. In the past few years, there had been an upward trend in the number of domestic tourists visiting Kashmir. According to recent reports, there were 13.6 million domestic visitors in 2013, a 9.8% increase from the previous year. The Paradise Music festival in Sonamarg, which was to be held from September 11 to 15, was cancelled. The Twitter feeds of the organisers say they were stuck at Sonamarg for six days without any communications. They finally found a way out and planned to travel to Leh to catch a flight to Delhi.