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08 August 2011

Kashmir tourist influx on high amid multiple fears

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By Bashir Assad


Srinagar: Amid fears of resurrection of violence after the custodial death of a boy in North Kashmir’s Sopore town and political forces trying to get political mileage out of this gruesome act, there is no let-up in tourist influx though the hiked air-fair, infrastructure and policy hurdles are playing spoilsport.


While protests erupted in the Valley for three consecutive from 2008 to 2010, violence during the peak tourism seasons hit the industry hard. This year it was comparatively a normal season and the influx of tourists was very good with hotels, houseboats and guest houses in the Kashmir Valley get packed with tourists and everyone, from taxi drivers to handicraft sellers, reports good sales, a few factors and the eventualities thereof certainly have a negative impact on overall tourism industry in the valley. Eruption of fresh phase of violence in the aftermath of Sopore custodial killing on one hand and lack of infrastructure and some hurting policies on the other hand are acting as roadblocks. However, the sheer visual beauty in this conflict zone has won over legions of fans over the decades. And they do this year too despite some roadblocks. The state tourism department is enthused by the inflow and is eager to offer additional activities like adventure tourism.


“We provide technical support and expertise to rafters who come here to enjoy the thrill of rafting in the fast waters of the Sindh stream,” said an official of the department in Sonamarg.
Most locals and those connected with the tourism industry are hopeful that the situation will remain peaceful despite some untoward incidents of recent past.


“We have seen the worst times during the last three years… We have nothing to do with politics. All we demand is that we be allowed to earn an honest living to support our families,” said 54-year-old hotelier Noor Muhammad.


Previous summers had started off peacefully, but events soon spiralled out of control in this conflict zone.


“We have huge bank loans to repay, besides maintaining an establishment. It is a well-known fact that a good hotel must at least have 30 percent occupancy to afford the running costs. The last three summers saw us literally living with our doors shut,” said Rafi Ganai, a hotel owner in south Kashmir’s Pahalgam hill station. This year, Rafi added, we had a good season so for and hope that rest of the season will pass off peacefully.


Porters, ‘ponywallahs’, who give tourists rides on horses, and roadside tea-stall owners depend entirely on the tourist and pilgrim inflow for their annual sustenance.


“I must earn for myself and my family during four months and save enough to live for the rest of the year. Four months of no work means starvation for me and my family,” said Wali Muhammad, 45, a ponywallah in north Kashmir’s Gulmarg tourist resort.


Most of the people associated with the tourism trade say that the current good tourism season has dawned due to unrelenting efforts by government and industry people to promote Kashmir in international market.


“We have done lot of marketing of Kashmir in various national and international travel marts and other occasions and hopefully that is bearing fruit,” said Nazir Bakshi, proprietor Shiraz Travels.
Tourism Department and private operators enhanced their presence in large number of events, travel fares, conferences and conventions held within and outside the country which include, international travel marts, national travel marts/fairs and festivals to motivate domestic as well as foreign tourists to visit J&K in large numbers.


But some experts say that the promotional campaign has been flawed. “They have been stressing on those countries which have issued bad (adverse) advisories for visiting Kashmir,” said Omar. “They are not campaigning in Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and others, which is a huge untapped market.”


However, during last few years, the tourism sector has faced another problem (other than the ones usually acknowledged by industry people), that has hindered percolation of the fruits of the trade to locals. “Generally tourists coming here use their own transport and thus a major chunk of their budget doesn’t reach to local transporters,” said Omar. “There is no policy to encourage the tourists to use local transport, unlike in Leh where outside transport is simply banned.”


The worst fear for the tourism sector, besides uncertainty prevailing in the state, are the statements coming from army and government. “When you repeatedly say that 400 militants are waiting to cross into Kashmir, it definitely has its effect,” said Siraj Ahmad, president Kashmir Hoteliers and Restaurant Association. . “Besides there are some elements outside the state who are hell bent to dent our tourism season.”


According to the businessmen, the tourism season of 2009 would have been even better, had the Taliban news not been played? “The highlighting of wrong news about Taliban coming to Kashmir played havoc with otherwise smooth tourist flow,” said Siraj. “People panicked and then started the decrease of tourist flow.”


[Bashir Assad is a senior Journalist based in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. He is now Bureau Chief (J&K) of IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be contacted at bashirassad@rediffmail.com]

1 comment:

  1. Kashmir Tour Packages - Kashmir is the most wondering place in the India. this is known as heaven on earth. now it becomes a tourist spot.

    ReplyDelete