Tourists throng Valley: 50 flights a day and night

From millennials and young professionals to honeymooners and multigenerational families, the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir is witnessing record levels of tourism.

The increased number of direct flights to Srinagar, in addition to the UT’s tourism department initiatives, are drawing travellers there, travel agencies said, adding that the demand for tourism in J&K in the ongoing summer travel season is four times what was witnessed pre-pandemic. Also, given that most hotels are running at near full-occupancy, room tariffs have seen a sharp increase of 40-80%.

J&K typically is among the top tourism destinations for domestic travellers in the summer season. “With heatwaves gripping India earlier than usual this year, travellers are preferring hill stations and beach destinations for summer getaways. We have seen 17-20% month-on-month growth in travel search queries for Srinagar. Advance bookings for the region are also picking up,” Rajnish Kumar, co-founder & group chief product & technology officer at online travel portal ixigo, said.

With night-operations being approved last year at Srinagar’s Sheikh ul-Alam International Airport, the city has seen increased flight connectivity. In the Summer Schedule 2022 for domestic flights, Srinagar was directly connected with several more destinations like Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru. Currently, the airport is witnessing close to 50 departures every day.

“With the pandemic putting domestic tourism in the spotlight, Kashmir emerged as a traveller’s favourite destination. Kashmir recorded its highest number of tourists in the past decade in March 2022, and our booking data reiterates the same. We witnessed a significant growth in demand for Srinagar with our online searches seeing a jump of over 150%,” Daniel D’Souza, President & Country Head-Holidays, SOTC Travel, said.

In the Union Territory’s Budget for 2022-23, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had laid special emphasis on the region’s tourism sector. For tourism and culture sectors, an allocation of about Rs 604.77 crore was made under capital expenditure for 2022-23, Rs 78.61 crore higher than the previous year’s Budget allocation.

The current boom in tourism inflow into J&K is also happening from different categories of towns. These include metros, mini-metros and tier 1-3 towns — Vadodara, Kolkata, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Indore, Kochi, Bhopal, Coimbatore, Jaipur, etc.

In terms of destinations within J&K, tourists are flocking to places such as Pahalgam, Sonmarg, Gulmarg in addition to Srinagar. “The average room tariff for Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg have witnessed a surge of over 40% compared to pre-pandemic levels with the highest ever for the upcoming summer vacation period. What is noteworthy is that the demand for experiential stays like houseboats has witnessed a striking surge in demand for the next two months,” D’Souza said.

Rajeev Kale, President & 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 upcoming holidays to Srinagar, Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonmarg being customer favourites. The state’s tourism initiatives are further attracting travellers, latest being hot-air ballooning”.

On the business side, qualitative insights from airlines show that there is a sustained uptick in corporate travellers to Srinagar. “There are people travelling for business from international destinations such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat, etc. J&K does not have direct international connectivity to the Middle-East, and these passengers are arriving via hubs such as Delhi and Mumbai,” a senior executive at an Indian low-cost carrier said.

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