SRINAGAR — A trip to Kashmir from Delhi, Gujarat or Mumbai becomes costlier for any visitor than visiting any South Asian country which has become worrisome for tourism players of the valley.
If one has a look at the airfare chart by portals like MakeMyTrip and EaseMyTrip, an air ticket from Delhi to Srinagar costs Rs 15,000 which normally is Rs 4,000-5,000, indicating a 300 percent increase in airfare for the last two weeks. Similarly, the airfare from Gujarat is Rs 16,000 and there is almost the same airfare from Maharashtra to Srinagar.
Presently, airfare from Delhi to Colombo (Sri Lanka) is just Rs 11,000 and Rs 22,000 for Dubai.
Mahesh Bhat, a businessman from Mumbai came to Kashmir on March 15 along with his wife and two sons. “Each ticket cost us Rs 18,000 from Mumbai to Srinagar. Last year in October, I went to Dubai and the airfare from Delhi to Dubai was Rs 21,000. We are visiting our part of the country still, it becomes costlier for us than any Asian country,” he told the news agency KINS.
In the first two months of 2023, at least 2.5 lakh tourists visited Kashmir. This includes those who visited by road. In 2022, 1.70 lakh tourists visited Kashmir in January and February.
Over 1.88 crore tourists visited J&K in 2022. Those included religious pilgrims also. Of this, 26.73 lakh tourists visited Kashmir alone, which was the highest number in the last three decades according to government figures.
Tourism is considered the backbone of Kashmir’s economy after the horticulture sector. Each year, Kashmir generates revenue of around Rs 8,000 crore from the tourism sector. While the rush is expected to increase this year as Asia’s largest Tuilp Garden ‘Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden’ was thrown open on March 19. At least 15 lakh tulips with 68 varieties will attract visitors this year.
A senior official of the Tourism Department said more and more tourists are visiting Kashmir this year. “I can’t tell exactly how many tourists we expect this year. But if all goes well, then tourist footfall during 2023 will cross the 2022 figures,” he said.
He said the department has already raised the issue of rising airfare with the Centre.
Mohammad Shafi, a hotelier, said there is 100 percent booking of hotels at Gulmarg and Pahalgam. “This year, we are witnessing a huge arrival of tourists compared to the last year. We hope over 35 lakh tourists visit Kashmir this year but the government has to curb rising airfare,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Valley’s apex business chamber – Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) has sought intervention from the Union Home Ministry and Civil Aviation Ministry and urged them to step in to curb the exorbitant airfares.
According to KCCI President Javid Tenga, the increase in airfare has had a negative impact on the tourism season as well as the travel plans of elderly, ill, and young people as well as business people.
“The Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture having taken stock of the situation emerging out of irrational mechanisms adopted by some operators in league with some airlines manipulating the airfare, the KCC&I hails this Department-related Committee for making the appropriate recommendations and observations,” he said.
“Now, accordingly we would urge and earnestly request the Minister of Home Affairs and the Union Minister for Civil Aviation, Government of India, and also the Director General, Civil Aviation to ensure implementation of the recommendation made by this Department-related Committee in letter and spirit without fail and any further delay,” he said.