Srinagar, March 16: The novel coronavirus outbreak is very likely to endanger Kashmir’s already strained tourist sector before it even begins, tourism players as well as officials fear.
The first casualty for all practical purposes seems to be Asia’s largest tulip garden here on the banks of the Dal Lake – the flagship of Kashmir’s tourism.
Officials said that as novel coronavirus gets a grip of more states as well as countries from which Kashmir receives quite a number of domestic and internal tourists respectively, there are hardly going to be any sightseers for over 1.3 million tulips of 55 varieties and colours, spread in the 10-hectares garden situated on the foothills of Zabarwan Range with an overview of Dal Lake. This time around, 15000 hyacinth flowers, brought from Holland and also locally, were planted apart from 13 lakh tulip bulbs for added attraction in the garden, Director Floriculture Farooq Ahmad Rather told Global News Service (GNS).
“As of now, the situation is not good due to coronavirus and it is unlikely that people will visit the garden. We are waiting for directions, instructions/ advisory from the government,” he said.
A senior tourism official told GNS that Kashmir received 14805 domestic and 6432 foreign tourists in March last year. Similarly, he said, 53648 domestic and 8167 foreign tourists visited Kashmir in April last year. The tulip garden normally opens in the third week of March and remains open until the last week of April. It is one of the prime attractions for tourists in Kashmir.
“We were expecting a good number of tourists this season,” said a tourism official. “However, the immediate prospect looks very bleak,” he added.
The tourist department, he said, was expecting “a good a number of tourists” from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia besides other countries. “There is not going to be any arrivals, at least immediately, given the fact that all tourist visas have been cancelled till April 15 in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country,” he said, adding, “We fear it’s going to be a very difficult phase and it may end up as being the worst impact for the tourism sector in many years.”
The first half of tourist season last year was very reassuring for the tourist players and the tourism department with as many as 456525 to 428127 domestic and 28398 foreign sightseers visiting the Valley till July last year. The arrival came to naught for the subsequent five months following the Government of India’s decision to do away with the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution after more than 70 years.
On August 3 last year, two days ahead of the annulling of the Article 370, the government in an advisory asked all the tourists and Amarnath pilgrims to vacate Kashmir immediately. Thousands of tourists and pilgrims were evacuated followed by a massive security and communication clampdown, which has been eased since though not fully.
A tourist player told GNS that coronavirus spread has “dashed little hopes about any revival of the tourism sector.”
“To be honest, we were not expecting many foreign tourists to come given the advisories against travel by many countries and the advisories were issued even prior to coronavirus outbreak,” he said, adding, “Surely it is a big blow to the tourism sector by the spread of the virus and there is going to be a massive impact on domestic arrivals, at least for the next few months.”