Tourists invade the valley: 50 flights per day and per night
SHUAIB MASOODI From millennials and young professionals to honeymooners and multi-generational families, the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is experiencing record levels of tourism.
The increase in the number of direct flights to Srinagar, in addition to initiatives by UT’s tourism department, is attracting travelers there, travel agencies said, adding that tourism demand at J&K during the summer season in progress is four times greater than that observed before the pandemic. . Additionally, since most hotels are operating near capacity, room rates have seen a steep increase of 40-80%.
J&K is usually among the top tourist destinations for domestic travelers during the summer season. “With heat waves hitting India earlier than usual this year, travelers are preferring hill stations and beach destinations for summer getaways. We have seen a monthly growth of 17-20% in travel search queries for Srinagar. Advance bookings for the region are also increasing,” said Rajnish Kumar, co-founder and group chief product and technology officer at online travel portal ixigo.
With overnight operations approved last year at Sheikh ul-Alam International Airport in Srinagar, the city has seen an increase in flight connectivity. In the 2022 summer timetable for domestic flights, Srinagar was directly connected to several other destinations like Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. Currently, the airport registers nearly 50 departures every day.
“With the pandemic putting domestic tourism in the spotlight, Kashmir has become the preferred destination for travellers. Kashmir recorded its highest number of tourists in the last decade in March 2022, and our booking data reiterates the same. We have seen a significant growth in demand for Srinagar, with our online searches surging by more than 150%,” said Daniel D’Souza, President and National Head of Vacations, SOTC Travel.
In the Union Territory’s budget for 2022-2023, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had placed particular emphasis on the region’s tourism sector. For the tourism and culture sectors, an allocation of approximately Rs 604.77 crore has been made under capital expenditure for 2022-2023, Rs 78.61 crore more than the budget allocation for the year previous.
The current boom in the influx of tourists to J&K is also occurring in different categories of cities. These include metros, mini-metros and Tier 1-3 cities – Vadodara, Kolkata, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Indore, Kochi, Bhopal, Coimbatore, Jaipur, etc.
In terms of destinations within J&K, tourists flock to places such as Pahalgam, Sonmarg, Gulmarg in addition to Srinagar. “The average room rate for Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg has seen an increase of over 40% from pre-pandemic levels with the highest on record for the upcoming summer holiday period. What is remarkable is that the demand for experiential stays like houseboats has seen a striking increase in demand over the next couple of months,” D’Souza said.
Rajeev Kale, President and Country Head, Holidays, MICE, Visa-Thomas Cook (India) Limited, said, “With the start of the tulip season and to avoid the scorching summer heat, our customers continue to book their next holidays to Srinagar, Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonmarg being the favorites of the customers. The state’s tourism initiatives are attracting more travelers, the latest being hot air ballooning.
On the business side, qualitative information from airlines shows that there is a sustained increase in the number of business travelers to Srinagar. “There are people who travel for business from international destinations such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat, etc. J&K does not have direct international connectivity with the Middle East, and these passengers arrive via hubs such than Delhi and Mumbai,” said a senior executive at an Indian low-cost airline.