Rethinking Tourism Activities in J&K
By: M Ahmad
Tourism is a growing industry globally and countries are investing a lot of money in building great infrastructure so as to cater to quality as well as quantity tourism inflow. It is confirmed that tourism has become a widespread leisure activity among individuals and it is considered as one of the leading Industry in the world. The increased popularity of international tourism not only ensures economic growth for the host countries, but also promotes understanding and trust among people with different backgrounds and cultures. In this matter tourism indirectly has its role as an ambassador and vehicle of international understanding and peace.
Tourism industry is the world’s largest industry which helps in bridging the gap amongst communities, religions and culture and is an effective tool for promoting peace which in turn leads to cross-cultural interaction resulting in tolerance, national integration, compassion, goodwill, educational standards, justice and mutual respect for each other. Almost in every economy of the world, tourism sector plays a vital role in generating revenue, employment opportunities and in overall GDP.
World Tourism Day is commemorated each year on 27 September to foster awareness regarding tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value. Tourism has become a big business and has been considered as a fastest growing industry. This is primarily a service industry because it does not produce goods but extends services to various classes of people. Tourism can play an effective role in integrating the entire universe and opens up a new window for resources, both investments and generation, leading to employment generation as well as socio-economic development of the local populace at large.
In Jammu & Kashmir also, the tourism sector is playing a huge role in the overall development of UT’s economy. Kashmir has rightly been described as “Heaven on Earth” or “Paradise on the Earth” for its breath-taking beauty. Tourism sector has a great potential in Jammu & Kashmir and it also provides immense business opportunities for the people here as it is perhaps the only sector which starts paying off immediately as it has no gestation period. It has played an important role in the development of the economy of J&K historically. The industry has provided jobs to a very large number, especially for the younger generation to generation, and the generations of economic activity in the primary, the secondary, and the secondary sectors of the state, which owes much to the industry. Jammu & Kashmir is one of the leading tourist destinations where tourists love to be. It is well known that around 50%-60% people of the state are directly or indirectly related with the tourism. Jammu and Kashmir economy is a service economy where majority of revenue is coming from tourism sector.
Kashmir, often described as the Switzerland of Asia is a natural magnet for tourism with its alpine forests, balmy climate, high mountains, lakes, rushing streams, ski slopes and verdant valleys. Its rich culture and thriving handicrafts are additional assets as are its well-known pilgrimage sites. Words are not enough to describe the beauty of Jammu and Kashmir. The beauty of the landscapes and terrain are absolutely breath-taking and truly mesmerizing in every sense of the word. Kashmir Valley is one of the top tourist destinations of India. It is home to several valleys such as the Kashmir Valley, Chenab Valley, Sindh Valley and Lidder Valley, Bungus Valley, Gurez Valley, Lolab Valley and other such various unnoticed valleys. Jammu and Kashmir forms the crown of the nation where one could lose oneself in the beauty of nature.
Jammu, Kashmir have immense potential for tourism from both domestic as well as international tourists. There are number of locations which are untapped and can be developed as major tourist destinations, having all the natural as well as the cultural resources for attracting tourists. Some of the important natural resources are excellent climate, beautiful lakes, locations for adventure sports, wild life, trout fish, natural and manmade parks.
As for the cultural resources, the state has some of the most important religious shrines of Hindus, historical monuments, plethora of local festivals, distinct cuisine, craftsmanship skills for intricate and fine woodwork, woollens, carpets, textiles, papier mache, inlay work etc. In addition to traditional recreational tourism, vast scope exists for adventure, pilgrimage, spiritual, and health tourism. The natural beauty and picturesque locations have made it a favoured destination for tourists across the world. Jammu is famous for its temples, while Kashmir Valley is known for its lakes and gardens.
Tourism is known to be the back bone of the Jammu and Kashmir and holds a strategic place in J&K economy by providing economic benefits like Employment, Foreign Exchange, Infrastructure development and development of local industries like Handicrafts and Handlooms which has placed J&K always in the limelight at the national as well as international level. Several remarkable initiatives were undertaken across the length and breadth of J&K to rejuvenate the dwindling economic landscape which was affected due to relentless wrath of Covid-19. In one such major intervention for upliftment of tourism sector in J&K, Union government made record budget allocation of 786 crores in budget for tourism sector here which is 509 crores higher than last budgetary allocation with an intent to boost tourism and allied services of Jammu and Kashmir. In commensuration with this, government of J&K has also undertaken several initiatives to give further stimulus and impetus to tourism sector here.
J&K Bank has formulated exclusive scheme providing hassle free credit for the conversion of residential properties into tourist guest houses. The Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Policy-2020 aims at making J&K most preferred all-season tourist destination for domestic and foreign tourists in India by 2025, generate employment opportunities for the people, impart training to around 4000 tourist service providers over the next ten years, promote all kind of tourism across the UT, and to promote city wise events and festivals with a pre-defined calendar and promoting the same at national and international level.
In a mega push to promote ecotourism in Jammu and Kashmir, government has approved development of seven new trekking routes in various wildlife protected areas. The night flight has started operating from Srinagar Airport marking the dawn of a new era and indicating improvement in air connectivity to Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of country and other countries. In one of the remarkable initiatives launched by government of J&K, is launch of Jammu And Kashmir Tourist village Network under “Mission Youth” to boost rural tourism. The aim of the initiative is to transform 75 villages of known historical, picturesque, beauty and cultural significance into tourist village. Hospitality tech company OYO on Thursday partnered with the Jammu and Kashmir administration to launch a rural tourism initiative, ‘Crown of Incredible India’, across the Union Territory to give a boost to the distressed tourism industry and turn the youth into start-up entrepreneurs in J&K. Another aim is to promote youth led sustainable tourism, community entrepreneurship and to empower women and youth by offering direct and indirect employment opportunities. All this will help in talking a long step to boost rural economy. A provision for multitude of benefits has been there in J&K tourist village network scheme like Rs 10 lakh for infrastructure, camping material and equipment, home stays etc. Upto Rs 10 lakh for shooting any film or songs by empanelled companies, and upto Rs 2 lakh to local groups for shooting songs etc.
Moreover, river festivals on the lines of Ganga festival, are organized in create awareness among the general public regarding cleanliness and preservation of rivers in Jammu and Kashmir. Further at the global fora, Jammu and Kashmir tourism organized an outreach meet with the stakeholders of the Middle East and adjoining Countries. The aim has been to attract tourists from the middle east to explore the natural beauty, cuisine, art, culture and other products offered by J&K. Jammu and Kashmir government launched new film policy to boost tourism and investment in the union territory. The policy envisaged the setting up of Jammu and Kashmir film development council (JKFDC).
The Department of Tourism, J&K is the main developmental, promotional and regulatory arm of the J&K Government. Its main role comprises of overall planning and execution of schemes for the development, up-gradation and improvement of the tourism infrastructure. Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to develop 5 tourist villages within Dal Lake in Srinagar. These villages are Kachri Mohalla, Sofi Mohalla, Tinda Mohallah, Akhoon Mohalla, and Vegetable market. These villages will have all basic facilities for inhabitants as well as tourists and local visitors. They will also provide homestay facilities to tourists. Support to the private sector industry in the form of incentives for settings up various tourist facilities as well as for promotion and marketing of their products and services. Promotion and marketing of various tourist destinations and products of the regulation of the travel-trade by enforcement of provisions of J&K Registration of Tourist Trade Act (1978/82).
The Department of Tourism has Tourist Offices in all the tourist resorts of J & K. In addition, there are 6 promotional offices outside the J&K, one each at New Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata. Also, there is one provincial Director of Tourism each for Jammu and Kashmir Divisions. The Department also has Engineering Division under its control for the implementation and execution of various schemes for formulating and monitoring the plan schemes, the Department has a Planning Wing and for overall marketing and promotion, the Department has a Publicity Wing.
The commercial activities in the tourism sector from the Government side are looked after by a public sector corporation known as the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation (J&K TDC). It operates and manages Government accommodation in Tourist Centers at Srinagar and Jammu, and the Tourist Complexes, Hotels and Tourist bungalows in various resorts. The Corporation also runs a Travel Division, which organizes package tours to various parts of the State and also arranges transport facilities for the tourists.
Tourism should be shifted from being a seasonal commotion to all year around activity. Proper tourism marketing of each season can increase the tourist activity manifold. Development of a strong network among government and various agencies, which would work towards remarketing Kashmir tourism on modern basis. Identifying new tourist spots will go a long way in enhancing tourism potential of the valley. Jammu and Kashmir tourism needs enough measures to provide proper security to tourists so that a sense of safeness will be felt by the tourists. Tourism is the life line of Jammu and Kashmir and all possible efforts need to be undertaken for retaining, maintaining and sustaining it. Tourism can play an effective role in integrating the entire universe. Tourism opens up new window for resources, both investment generation and revenue generation leading to employment generation as well as socioeconomic development of the local populace.
Finally, Kashmir is an area with great tourism potential & is a leading edge of development. Kashmir is considered as a most elite destination in the world. Tourism is the main industry in the state. It is regarded as multi-segmented industry therefore, provides different types of jobs like hotel managers, guides, travel agents and others. The enchanting geographical landscape & range of ecosystems leaves a lasting impression on the tourists in Kashmir.
There is a need to build more facilities and to work on some flaws. Tourists around the world love to visit the state because the state is blessed with the beauty of nature. The state should focus towards the infrastructure development so that more and more tourists visit every year. Rural and Border tourism growth should be one of the Tourism Department’s priorities, and the government should work on improving the rural sector’s overall infrastructure. Tourism Department should encourage local vloggers, bloggers, and authors to write more about the region’s unknown places.
This may be done by creating a welcoming atmosphere and upgrading the different amenities. For the economic growth to be more successful, the government must implement more liberal policies, which will lead to more jobs for its youth and a better quality of life for its citizens.
(M Ahmad is a regular writer for this newspaper and can be reached at [email protected])