New Delhi: Airlines companies’ decision to hike air fares on Kashmir circuit has irked the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department and industry which fear that this would adversely affect the state's tourism season. They sought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention in the interest of the nation.   

Interestingly, J&K witnessed huge growth in tourist inflow during the last summer season. Sudden air fares hike will mar the tourism potential in the state.

The state tourism department and the industry say the prices have been increased just when the peak season for visiting the valley was approaching.

"It is unfortunate that airlines are increasing air fares to and fro Kashmir valley. As a result of this, the tourism industry will suffer," Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Director Farooq Shah said here.

He said the air fares were "substantially high" and continuing to rise, even touching Rs 17,000 one way between Delhi and Srinagar which was more than that between Delhi and Malaysia or Singapore.

"The rates cannot be fixed arbitrarily. There should be some ceiling on the fares," he said, adding that the high rates would badly affect tourist flow to the valley during the peak summer season.

President of Travel Agents Society of Kashmir Abdul Khaliq Wangnoo alleged that the airlines were taking "undue advantage" of the situation since there is no rail link to Kashmir and the only alternate mode of travel is by bus.

"We have only two-three months of peak tourist season but such high rates would badly affect the inflow," he said.

He said he had requested state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to take up the issue with the Prime Minister and threatened agitation if some remedial steps were not taken.

Nazir Bakshi, chairman of travel bodies of Kashmir, said there should be intervention by the Prime Minister as Kashmir was returning to normal tourism after two decades of turmoil and the high air fares could not be allowed to sabotage that process.

"The issue needs sensitive handling. It is in the interest of the nation to keep air fares low so that more people can visit the valley," he said, adding good tourism would highlight the normalcy in the valley.

"Making Kashmir unaffordable for travel would have a huge impact," he said.

Bakshi suggested that if the airlines wanted to ensure that they do not make losses, they could fix single fares for the whole year instead of making these "exorbitant" during the peak tourist season.

(JPN/Agencies)