Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir - A recent snowfall in the upper reaches of Indian-administered Kashmir came after months of drought. Mountaintops in the valley these days are mesmerising, covered with snow. An early snowfall would normally be a blessing for the local tourism sector, especially in famous winter resort areas, such as Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonmarg. Yet these places appear desolate, with very few tourists around. "My hotel had zero occupancy last year, and almost all hotels across the valley suffered like this. It was disastrous," Pahalgam hotelier Mushtaq Ahmad told Al Jazeera . Tourism is a key sector of Kashmir's economy. According to local tourism officials, a single visiting tourist typically spends around $775. In 2016, nearly 1.3 million tourists came to the valley, but the tourism department had expected 1.8 million. Last year alone, the industry reportedly lost more than $46m. Autumn in Kashmir is breathtaking, with the region's famous chinar trees changing colour from green to crimson and gold. The famous Mughal gardens draw tourists from India and around the globe. But the decline of this industry come amid the valley's fragile security situation: Last year, five months of clashes ensued after the July killing of local rebel commander Burhaan Wani. The security situation deteriorated further after the killing of political workers and police officers by rebel fighters. Battling rebel fighters An increase in operations against rebels in Kashmir is among the reasons for the decline in visitor numbers, according to local tourism officials. In June, security forces launched "Operation All-Out" to destroy the fighters' hideouts in the valley. Lieutenant General JS Sandhu, head of the Indian Army's local command XV Corps, said they have killed an estimated 190 fighters this year. Kashmir is in dispute between two neighbouring countries, India and Pakistan. Both govern two separate parts but claim Kashmir in full. Kashmir is one of the world's most beautiful places, and it used to attract about two million tourists a year. Visitor numbers fell to less than one percent of that in the early 1990s, after the eruption of a Muslim separatist