The third wave of Covid has impacted tourism in Jammu and Kashmir in January after it had made an encouraging comeback till the end of last year.
From a record 1.4 lakh tourist arrivals in December 2021, the numbers this month have come down to less than half with just over 60,000 visitors till January 27.
Officials of the tourism department said owing to escalating Covid cases this month, the tourist arrivals have come down, but not stopped. “The pandemic has an effect on the arrivals, but they have not plunged as well. People are still arriving while taking precautions. We had 60,000 to 65,000 arrivals in January so far, which is still a good number,” said Zeeshan Khan, assistant director, tourism department, publicity.
Covid-induced global restrictions, early snowfall in Kashmir and a vigorous campaign by administration had triggered more inflow of tourists into the Valley in the last half of 2021 as the UT started opening more offbeat and virgin destinations to keep the sector thriving throughout the year.
Over 1.27 lakh visitors toured places in the Himalayan valley in November 2021, which was a seven-year high for the month. October had witnessed a footfall of 91,000.
Around 6.65 lakh tourists visited the Valley in 2021. In the few years before that, the numbers could hardly cross 2.5 lakh, excluding the pilgrims.
The decrease in footfall has an obvious effect on those dependent on tourism.
Manzoor Ahmad, a tourist cab driver in Srinagar, was busy throughout November and December, but had mostly been idle in January. “This month, I could just make a single trip to Gulmarg while in the past few months, I had not stopped for a single day. The pandemic and the associated lockdown affected our work a lot,” he added.
Mostly, tourists in winters would rush to Gulmarg, located in the Pir Panjal mountain range in the western Himalayas, some 50km from Srinagar.
Mukhtar Shah, president of Hoteliers Club Gulmarg, said the hotel occupancy has come down to 50%-60% from full bookings in December.
Tourism players and tour operators are, however, hopeful that the new wave will be over by the middle of February and the sector will revive in time for the peak season in spring and summer.
Shah said if Covid cases kept on reducing like they were currently across many Indian states, they expect a revival of the sector soon.
“We expect a good summer season. People are not able to go out of India so they head to hill stations and Kashmir is their first preference. If Covid situation gets better like it appears currently, undoubtedly we will again have good arrivals,” he added.
Farooq Ahmad Kuthoo, president, Travel Agents’ Association of Kashmir, said tour operators have started getting queries from prospective visitors. “People are waiting for the third wave to get over. We are already receiving calls from Maharashtra and Gujarat. We are hopeful that by February 15 , we will again have a good footfall of tourists,” he said.
Tourism players have already started pushing for the revival of arrivals. A special FAM (familiarisation) tour of all leading tour and travel operators of Maharashtra and Pune was organised by local tour operators in collaboration with the tourism department from January 23 to 27 to promote Kashmir as the most preferred tourism destination.
“Despite the pandemic, 16 leading tour and travel operators of Maharashtra and Pune arrived in Srinagar to see the real beauty of Kashmir and enjoy the cultural heritage, handicraft, food and hospitality measures during the tour,” said Nayeem Nazir, owner of Wayn Tours & Travels.
Covid cases on a decline in J&K
Srinagar: Covid cases have been on a decline in Jammu and Kashmir for the past four days with Saturday witnessing 4,175 infections and five deaths, prompting the health authorities to conclude that the third wave of the pandemic has reached its peak phase in the UT.
Covid cases had breached all records since the pandemic started with 6,570 infections on January 25 (Tuesday). After that, the cases have slowly declined with 5,606 infections on Wednesday, 4,959 infections on Thursday, 4,354 infections on Friday and 4,175 cases on Saturday.
“We are around the peak. The only question now is whether we have crossed it or about to cross it. It will take a few more days to say that with certainty,” said Dr Rouf Hussain Rather, community medicine specialist and in-charge, data analysis, divisional Covid control room in Kashmir.
“In Srinagar, cases are plateauing, but in some other districts they are still around the peak,” he added.
On Saturday, Kashmir valley saw almost 67% of the infections with 2,812 cases and two deaths while 1,363 cases and three deaths were reported in the Jammu division.
As many as 7,107 patients recovered and again, the number of recoveries was more than fresh infections.
The month of January so far has contributed 86,970 cases and 124 deaths to UT’s tally.
The active cases in the union territory were at 42,219, decreasing from the highest such cases (47,969) on Wednesday (January 26).
Officials said 76,507 tests were conducted in the past 24 hours in the UT, taking Saturday’s daily test positivity rate (TPR) to 5.45%
However, of the 5,038 beds dedicated for Covid patients, just over 10.79% (544) are occupied in J&K.
The total number of people who have recovered reached 3,81,389, while the recovery rate was at 89.05%. Since the pandemic started, the overall cases in J&K have mounted to 4,28,260 and the death toll stands at 4,652.
Himachal logs 1,714 infections
Himachal Pradesh recorded 1,714 fresh Covid infections on Saturday, taking the state’s total case tally to 2,69,291 while the death toll mounted to 3,969 after eight patients died of the viral infection.
Highest 402 cases were reported from Shimla, 349 from Kangra, 224 from Shimla, 163 from Hamirpur, 144 from Solan, 111 from Bilaspur, 101 from Una, 82 from Sirmaur, 63 from Chamba, 51 from Kullu, 20 from Kinnaur and four from Lahaul-Spiti.
Two fatalities each were reported from Chamba, Kangra and Kullu and one each from Kullu and Una.
Active cases have come down to 9,453 after 2,005 people recuperated, taking the total recoveries to 2,55,848.