AFTER TWO dismal summer seasons for tourism in Kashmir, winter has brought cheer back to the valley. With peaks capped with snow early this year, tourists from across the country are arriving in droves.

With Gulmarg — the valley’s top draw during the winters — bursting at its seams with tourists, the Jammu and Kashmir administration is planning to open some more destinations like Sonamarg and Dodapathri to start with. Tourism stakeholders are, however, skeptical with resorts struggling to ramp up infrastructure at double quick speed.

Rauf Tramboo, president, Travel Agents Association of Kashmir, is basking in the warmth of a surge in tourist traffic. “We are upbeat that there is a buzz about Kashmir… There are around 3,000-4,000 arrivals everyday. We are comfortable in a sense with such numbers,” he says.

Given the global restrictions due to Covid-19, the J&K administration toured around to promote Kashmir in major cities. “This year, we put special focus on publicity and held roadshows at major cities including Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Lucknow,” says Ghulam Nabi Itoo, director, Tourism, J&K.

Due to the pandemic, the valley suffered two consecutive dismal summer tourism seasons. “The budget class that makes up 70-80 per cent of our total tourist arrivals was badly hit by the pandemic,” says Tramboo. “That had a definite impact on our summer tourism,” he rues.

The administration and the stakeholders, however, tried to capitalise on the relative value that Kashmir offers compared with Europe. They publicised the valley as an inexpensive destination offering similar environs.

“The lack of connectivity to Europe due to the pandemic diverted adventure tourists to Kashmir. When they saw the slopes of Kashmir are as good as Europe, it helped us publicise Gulmarg as a good and affordable alternative to Europe,” Tramboo says.

While less than one lakh tourists visited the valley during April-July, more than 2.8 lakh thronged in just the last three months. “Most hotels in Gulmarg are sold out till March; in some cases, they are booked till April,” says Tramboo.

As the huge tourist arrivals has put stress on the ecologically fragile Gulmarg health resort, the government is keen to offer other destinations such as Sonamarg. A 6.5-km Z-Morh tunnel that connects Sonamarg to Srinagar will make the former accessible for tourists, and help divert some tourist traffic from Gulmarg.

“A decision has already been taken in this regard. We are keeping Sonamarg and Dodapathri open for tourism this winter,” Itoo says.

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