SRINAGAR: The fragile tourism industry in Kashmir has taken another blow with the death of a tourist hit by stones, and the sector fears that the incident may further affect the already falling footfall in the troubled Valley.
The killing of the Chennai youth could be the proverbial final nail in the coffin of tourism in Kashmir, Ashfaq Siddiq, president Travel Agents Association Kashmir (TAAK), said today.
The tourist, 22-year-old R Thirumani, was critically injured in a stone pelting incident at Narbal yesterday and died later in the day of head injuries, triggering outrage and concern.
"This is a sad incident which should not have happened. Unfortunately, we feel that it will have an impact on tourist arrivals to Kashmir. I think it will be the final nail in the coffin," Siddiq told PTI.
Tourism in the state has already suffered because of prolonged periods of unrest in the Valley, hoteliers said.
There has been a steep fall in the number of domestic tourists since 201, when the killing of militant Burhan Muzaffar Wani by security forces in July that year led to a prolonged period of violence and stone pelting in the Valley.
The number of tourists fell from 3,91,902 in the first four months of 2016 to 1,69,727 in the same period the next year.
The number in the corresponding period this year was 1,54,062, officials said.
The TAAK president said the association feared cancellation of bookings by tourists in the days to come.
"It is obvious that cancellations will happen and there might be some hardline elements who might even call for an absolute boycott of Kashmir," he said.
There is already panic in some quarters.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami today asked his counterpart Mehbooba Mufti to ensure the safe return of the 130 tourists from his state who were in Kashmir.
"I asked Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to help officials of the Tamil Nadu government for the safe return of the tourists," he said in Chennai.
Tourism Kashmir director Mehmood Shah, condemning the incident, said the department apprehended a fall in the number of visitors to the Valley.
"It is an unfortunate incident and we are deeply pained," Shah told PTI.
Asked if the incident would have any impact on the number of tourist arrivals, he said cancellations were likely.
"It will have an impact. Cancellations may happen," he said.
Last year, about 12 lakh tourists visited Kashmir.
While the number of domestic tourists has halved in the last two years, the number of foreign tourists has, however, doubled.
In the first four months of 2018, there were 21,631 foreign tourists, up from 10,767 in the same period last year, the officials said.
The tourism trade in Kashmir condemned the killing, saying that those who had thrown stones at the vehicle in which the tourist was travelling were not well wishers of Kashmir but 'cold-blooded murders'.
"We condemn every such killing, whether it is of a Kashmiri or a tourist. Whosoever has committed this incident is not a well wisher of Kashmiris. He is a bloody, cold-blooded murderer," Siddiq said later at press conference with other stakeholders from travel, tourism and trade bodies.
Siddiq said Kashmir is known for its hospitality and tourists should not be scared as they are 'our guests'.
"Kashmir is known for its ethos and hospitality. Tourists are our guests and never has it happened before. These incidents should not have an overall impact. They still are our guests," he said, apologising for the incident.