Despite the Covid third wave in the beginning of the year, Kashmir Valley has witnessed record tourist arrivals in the first four months of 2022, setting the tone for a bumper season this year.

On average, over 5,000 people have visited the Himalayan Valley every day this year so far. In 2021, the average daily arrivals were around 1,800.

“We are on the way to shattering all records as 6.05 lakh people have visited the region this year till April end. In 2021, as many as 6.61 lakh people had visited the Valley in the whole year,” said Ahsan Chisti, deputy director, tourism department.

Even as the Covid third wave peaked in January, the arrival of tourists continued, though at a lesser pace. As many as 60,000 people visited in January, after which the arrivals picked speed as the pandemic slowed down.

In February the number of arrivals was 1.05 lakh, which increased to 1.8 lakh in March and further shooting to 2.6 lakh in April. “Going by the arrivals, we expect a good year ahead,” said Chisti.

Mukhtar Shah, president of the Hoteliers Club Gulmarg, said that the flow of tourists has been constant after a long time. “In the past, we used to witness fluctuating tourist arrivals. But this year, we reached full capacity of peak arrivals in the beginning of March – around one-and-a-half months ahead of time. Otherwise, such flow used to be seen after April 15,” Shah said.

He added that a good number of visitors was seen during the winter months as well. “For the first time after the 2014 floods, the winter season got a good grip. Last year’s Khelo India publicity was one of the reasons,” he said. Shah believes that if things keep going at the current rate, they can see decadal records broken.

“If season starts early and continues to improve, it is indicative that the highest records can break,” he said.

Chisti said that there were multiple reasons for tourist numbers breaking records. “The primary reason is that for the past two years ,the department and other stakeholders have worked hard continuously for the promotion of tourism. Improvement of infrastructure, capacity building of stakeholders and timely vaccination against Covid were also key factors,” the deputy director said.

“Those who wanted to go abroad and couldn’t go due to Covid restrictions were also wooed to come here,” he added.

One of the major tourist spots which attracted a lot of people to the Valley was the opening of Tulip garden on the banks of Dal Lake in the last week of March. The garden witnessed an all-time high arrival of over 3.5 lakh visitors this year since its establishment in 2007.

Tourism had nosedived in Kashmir after August 5, 2019 when the special status of the erstwhile state was revoked and restrictions imposed on movement of people and communication shut for months. The situation was then further aggravated by the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and beginning of 2021.

The arrivals picked speed from October 2021 and have not stopped since then which is expected to improve the local economy. “It is a livelihood driven sector which will obviously improve the economy here,” Chisti said.

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