For the first time since the beginning of the year, tourist footfalls have started going up in Kashmir, raising hopes all over again in the local hospitality industry.Tourists can be seen lining up at the ticketing counters of the historic gardens of Srinagar -- Mughal, Nishat, Shalimar and Chasme Shahi. Elsewhere, too, the hospitality industry had reasons to celebrate."It now takes over an hour to cross the Wayil Bridge on the Srinagar-Leh highway in the evenings," said Jan Mohammad, who runs a restaurant near this famous bridge."Vehicles returning with tourists from Sonamarg are lined up on the northern side of this narrow bridge waiting for their turn to cross over," he said.Shikarawallahs, who earn their livelihood taking visitors across Dal Lake on joy rides, have started getting their first customers this year."There has been a gradual increase in the number of tourists coming to visit Dal Lake," confirmed Abdul Salam, a shikarawallah in the Gagribal area of the Lake. "I expect the flow to pick up and increase till the end of the summer tourist season," Salam added.Reports are equally encouraging from hoteliers and tour operators in Pahalgam and Gulmarg."We had bookings for the spring, but those were cancelled because of the second wave of COVID-19," said the manager of a Pahalgam hotel.
"Now we have started getting guests and also bookings for the coming months."Gulmarg, the most sought-after tourist destination in Kashmir, has been getting tourists in good numbers for the first time after the winter tourist season."All of us, from the taxi operators to pony owners, trekking guides and hoteliers, have started getting back our clientele," said Shabir Ahmad, a ski trainer in Gulmarg."If all goes well, we will get a good number of tourists in Gulmarg by the end of this month," Ahmed said.The main worry for the the administration is the absence of strict compliance with the Covid-19 protocols among the tourists coming into the Valley."We have to keep on reminding the visitors and the local people accompanying them that the pandemic is still around," a Srinagar police officer said."As a deterrent we impose fines on those not wearing masks or those who wear them in the most casual manner. A word of caution followed by a fine has been working, but both tourists and tour operators are duty-bound to keep the pandemic at bay. This message is being delivered at every place where we check tourist vehicles," the official said.The hospitality industry, while trying its best to follow the Covid-19 protocols, is not letting such fears cloud their optimism. Steadily growing footfalls through the rest of the tourist season is just what they need to lift their businesses out of the extended slump.