Kashmir tourism takes a hit as travellers await de-escalation


Countries such as the US, UK, and Australia have updated their travel advisories for India following the India-Pakistan conflict and have asked travellers to exercise a high degree of caution. They have advised their citizens not to travel to Jammu & Kashmir and while flights have resumed operations in parts of northern India, the situation still remains fluid, the advisories said.

The conflict has severely impacted forward bookings for Jammu & Kashmir for the upcoming summer season with many cancelling their bookings. Also, long haul flights to international destinations are facing delays because they have to bypass the Pakistani airspace, travel operators said.

On Friday evening, @AirportPakistan, a Twitter handle for the Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta Airports, tweeted that flight operations to and from Islamabad, Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi will resume under restricted airspace.

“The Department of state wishes to remind all citizens of its strong recommendation that you avoid travel to Jammu & Kashmir (with the exception of visits to the eastern Ladakh region and its capital Leh because of the potential for terrorist incidents as well as violent public unrest,” the US embassy said in a security alert. The UK government has also advised against all travel to J&K with the exception of travel within the city of Jammu, travel by air to the city of Jammu and travel within the region of Ladakh.

“Many countries have updated travel advisories for India, and overseas travellers are worried as a lot of last-minute cancellations are happening. The Pakistani airspace closure has also been a cause for concern. Tourists had to face late arrivals as they missed their accommodation and sight-seeing bookings in the last two days. Those who haven’t started on their travel are calling off their trip,” said Pranab Sarkar, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators.

Kapil Goswamy, MD of BigBreaks.com, said the recent events, the prevailing border tensions between India and Pakistan as well as the short term closure of air space that happened earlier this week, have impacted tourism to Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and even western Rajasthan.

“This is normally a time when travellers start to plan and book their spring and summer holidays as well as weekend getaways over long weekends like Holi and Good Friday. We’ve seen a certain hesitation among travellers booking trips to destinations like Srinagar, Leh, Amritsar and even Jaisalmer, and few who had booked earlier, are enquiring about alternate destinations since there’s lot of uncertainty. Bookings from the international markets have slowed down too,” said Kapil Goswamy, MD, BigBreaks.com.

Karan Anand, head of relationships at Cox & Kings, said the company sees a shift in travel away from Kashmir in the medium term due to the unfolding situation. “Travellers will schedule their visits for another time. However, Leh, Ladakh and Nubra Valley will stand to gain in the interim as the travel advisories have specifically excluded them,” he said.

Thomas Cook customers who were earlier planning a Kashmir holiday are opting for a change in destination. “Post February 27, we have seen a slowdown and both hoteliers are airlines are offering full cancellations. While we have seen a demand on cancellations, we are also offering multiple destination options like Himachal and Uttarakhand. People who have planned a holiday want to change their destinations. We are hoping for a de-escalation of the situation and things to stabilise,” said Romil Pant, senior VP, leisure travel, Thomas Cook.

Sharat Dhall, COO, B2C at Yatra.com, said people have put their travel plans on hold for Kashmir and those who were travelling immediately have cancelled. “Things should get clearer in the coming days. For long haul international flights, carriers were continuing to bypass Pakistani air space on Thursday and Friday.”

Asif Iqbal Burza, MD, Ahad Hotels and Resorts said bookings had been hit but he hoped the government would start promotional and awareness campaigns to show things are back on track.

“Because of good snowfall in the winters this time, we had a lot of tourists. There has been panic since the conflict.”