Floods deal death blow to Kashmir’s tourism industry

The iconic Boulevard Road that is invariably part of any Kashmir picture postcard with ornate houseboats lined on the banks of Srinagar’s centrepiece — the Dal Lake – now looks like a swamp. The flood waters have receded, but the damage it has caused to the hotels, houseboats and the restaurants, and the slush and stink that it has left behind is a telling reminder of the damage caused to Kashmir’s key tourism industry in its backward.

Instead of cars parked, boats are either moored or ferrying people on the Boulevard Road that is just 1.5km from the chief minister Omar Abdullah’s residence on the Gupkar Road. Almost all hostels and restaurants in Srinagar’s main tourist district were submerged and tens of thousands of tourists were marooned for days without food, water and medicines.

The tourism industry, along with horticulture, is one of Kashmir’s economic mainstays. It had started looking up since 2011 after three years of street protests. Record breaking tourist arrivals had boosted the industry and it had begun to drawn comparisons with its heydays till the late 1980s.

The valley is estimated to have earned Rs 1,520 crore from trade, hotels and restaurant services in the current season (2013-2014). Tourism is unlikely to be revived anytime soon in the face of visuals showing helpless tourists crying for help and extensive damage caused to around 1,500 hotels, houseboats and restaurants. Kashmir in any case had a shortage of hotels to accommodate increasing tourist numbers.

The crucial September-November tourist season has virtually been washed away. Reports quoting industry sources said airlines and hotel cancellations are 100% till the middle of next month while the state has suffered an estimated initial loss of Rs 5,400-5,700 crore to the economy including the tourism industry. “Those who had booked for winters are watching the situation,” said an agency report.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) secretary general DS Rawat said shattering of confidence among the tourists was the biggest worry. “…it will take long time and effort to win back the tourists to the state,” he said.

Tourists like Pune-based fashion designer Nafisa Poonawala Hashim, would take a while to get over the traumatic experience of getting caught in the flood fury. She narrated her ordeal to Pune Mirror and said she was marooned inside a Boulevard Road hotel along with her family with no communication with the outside world while the water levels kept rising and the mercury dipped.

When they were rescued, they rowed over submerged cars on the hotel premises. They survived on rice, potatoes and boiled eggs divided among 14 people. Houseboat owners brought supplies for the stranded tourists despite losing everything in the floods. A hotelier and his sons rowed so many people for four days to safety that their hands had cuts and blisters. Their boats could reach the hotel lobby where the family was stranded as heavy furniture was floating around.

This forced the family to make a raft out of wooden planks from beds, foam insulators of pipes and plastic bottles. Nafisa helped evacuate a man from Bengal, who had a heart attack and his wife before she was rescued and flew back to Pune with her extended family that was in Srinagar for a wedding.

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