Rise in airfares as tourist season peaks

Rise in airfares as tourist season peaksRising airfares have started playing a damper on tourism in Kashmir even as the sector was on a path of revival this year after setback suffered in 2014 due to devastating floods.
Tickets to a few cities are even costlier than international flights. This has made Valley’s tourism players lose sleep. Despite raising the matter several times with the Centre and state, the issue of soaring airfares continues to bother the stakeholders.
“If you want to book now, the cheapest ticket to New Delhi these days costs more than Rs 6,500. If booked in advance during lean season, one can buy it for less than Rs 2,500. And, if you want to go to Mumbai, the fare is Rs 10,000. It means one has to pay around Rs 20,000 for a return ticket to Mumbai, which is costlier than some international destinations,” said Gulzar Ahmad, a travel agent.
He said that more tourists would come to the Valley in case a check was kept on the airfares as Kashmir is yet to be connected by train. “Since Kashmir is not connected by train, high airfares impact the tourism sector badly in summer,” he said.
Government officials and private tourism players have on several occasions raised the issue of steep hike in the airfares during peak season with the Centre.
“We have held meetings with Union ministers and DG, Civil Aviation. However, we were told that they cannot control airfares. They said other tourist destinations too faced the same issue,” said Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KCCI) president Mushtaq Ahmad Wani.
Wani said though airfares to other tourist destinations too soared in peak season, most of these locations have good road and rail connectivity unlike Kashmir. He said their demand of fixing an upper limit for economy class airfares too was not considered.
Even as Wani admitted that the state government could not do much to control airfares, he said the J&K government should not announce measures that add to the problem. He said this in reference to the announcement of an increase of five per cent tax on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) in the recent J&K Budget 2016-17.
After objections from the Kashmir Inc, Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu had stated that helicopters, which ferry pilgrims to various religiousdestinations, were exempted from the hike.