Srinagar: As the crippling impact of the Covid pandemic is steadily receding in the country, with tourists pouring back into Jammu & Kashmir to live their winter dreams, one man is at the centre of energy in an early revival of tourism here – Mushtaq Chaya.
A doyen of J&K tourism, who helps in connecting dots of interests between Jammu and Kashmir tourism sectors, Mr Chaya, who is chairman of J&K Hoteliers Club and the patron of PHDCCI, J&K Chapter, today reflects an optimism that was hard to imagine a few months back.
“Tourism sector was in bad shape in J&K. The Covid pandemic impacted most of us badly. But rather than sitting at one place and letting this pandemic overwhelm me, I chose to venture out, reach out to individuals and businesses across the country and within J&K and create an environment of confidence. Thankfully, with several stakeholders in the tourism sector in Kashmir and in Jammu, and also the Tourism Department, joining hands, tourism is back in business in J&K today to some extent, albeit not to its full potential”, Mr Chaya told Ziraat Times.
Tourism in Jammu & Kashmir has been going through a rough phase, with a major dip in tourist arrivals both in Kashmir and Jammu regions. According to the latest figures provided by the Tourism Department, the number of tourist arrivals in Kashmir in August 2019 had dropped to a low of 10,130, while as in the corresponding month of 2018 the number of visitors was 85,534. The situation turned grim in September 2019, when the total number of tourists in Kashmir region was recorded as 4,562.
In comparison, in 2017, the arrivals were much better in September, with 1,64,395 visitors travelling to Kashmir.
Observers believe that while the Mountain Day event held in Srinagar on 11 December, 2020, by the Tourism Department Kashmir, in collaboration with the Adventure Tour Association, which saw a large presence of adventure lovers from both within and outside J&K, played a crucial role in renewing confidence in travelling to J&K, it was the private sector that followed up and made the wheel move.
“When the lockdown was gone, it was something like who will bell the cat. Private businesses had to make a choice. Stalwarts like Mushtaq Chaya not only pepped up confidence in the sector for garnering the much-needed working capital, but also led by example”, said a prominent hotel owner from Srinagar.
One of the remarkable things about the signs of tourism revival in J&K today is that tourists are shuttling between Srinagar and Jammu, which is turning out to be a win-win situation for people in both the regions.
A good percentage of devotees visiting Jammu these days are also seen taking a few extra days to visit Kashmir to experience the magic of snow here. Likewise, a large number of tourists who first visit Kashmir are going to Jammu to have darshan at Mata Vaishno Devi temple there.
As head of the Hoteliers Club, Mr Chaya is known to bring together people from Jammu and Kashmir regions, facilitating business networking and collaborations.
“Chaya sahab is a figure who is deeply respected in both Kashmir and Jammu regions among the business communities. When we saw him shuttling between Srinagar and Jammu amid the pandemic and creating confidence, we followed suit. It was so motivating to see him trying to get things kick-started once again”, a prominent hotelier of Jammu said.
While 2019 and 2020 have been difficult years for Kashmir’s tourism, Mr Chaya exudes confidence that the tourism community in J&K will be able to overcome the difficulties.
“When we see the overall picture, in 2017, more than 73 lakh tourists had visited Jammu and Kashmir, which is a good number. Among those, 57.39 lakh were pilgrims who visited Jammu, while over 10.76 lakh tourists visited Kashmir. Due to the circumstances of 2019 and 2020, people in the tourism business in J&K have lost business, hotel properties require maintenance, working capital is not as good as it should be. In these circumstances, the government must do everything to facilitate a turnaround”, Mr Chaya said, adding, “livelihoods of lakhs of people in J&K depend on tourism. It is not only the percentage contribution of tourism to GSDP of J&K, it is the crucial trickle down effect. That effect is huge and provides support to the overall economy. We, and also the government, must do everything to bring back confidence and revive tourism in Jammu & Kashmir.”