Tour operators claimed the rush to the Kashmir Valley was unlikely to see a decline. “We don’t foresee people cancelling their plans. J&K is a long-haul destination and people’s confidence in visiting the region isn’t going to be influenced by an isolated incident,” said Gour Kanjilal, executive director, Indian Association of Tour Operators.
However, the state now faces strong competition from other parts of the country. Attraction towards the Northeast, for instance, has been on the rise. “The Northeast has seen an increase in tourist numbers, as it is one of the unexplored destinations in India,” said Manmeet Ahluwalia, marketing head of leading travel portal Expedia. Locations such as Haflong in Assam, Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, and Shillong in Meghalaya, as well as other parts of the country such as Auli in Uttarakhand and the snow-covered Triund in Himachal Pradesh were among the “Bohemian destinations” whose popularity was rising, he added.
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Source: Government data
Among the Northeastern states, which attracted a total of 84,100 foreign tourists last year, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Sikkim have improved their ranks in terms of overall arrivals — from 29 to 26, 32 to 27, 34 to 31 and 27 to 23, respectively.
J&K, which attracted 60,845 foreign tourists last year, has slipped from the 17th to 19th position in overall arrivals.
While the flow of tourists to the Northeast is improving, conventional destinations continue to do well. “Kashmir, Kerala, Andaman, Rajasthan, Goa, Himachal and Uttarakhand are popular destinations for domestic travellers,” says Vicki Parris, national brand leader (India), Flight Shop. “What we’re also noticing is there’s an upsurge in honeymoon package bookings. January will see the highest rush, with a 16 per cent increase in travel by newly-weds, against 11 per cent in December and eight per cent in November.”
Overall, Maharashtra is the most popular destination for foreign tourists, followed by Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Kerala, Bihar, Karnataka and Goa. Together, these states account for about 90 per cent of the foreign traffic into the country.
Currently, India accounts for about seven million foreign tourists a year and, following the introduction of e-visa facilities for 43 countries, the number is expected to rise.