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Right Time to Give Impetus to Tourism in Kashmir

Wednesday, December 11, 2019, 17:15 Hrs  [IST]

Tourism in Jammu and Kashmir has immense potential to restore peace after revocation of Article 370 on 31 October 2019. The Union Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had announced on August 5 its landmark decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution to bifurcate the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories.

The total number of tourist arrivals to the State in 2018 prior to revocation was 8.5 lakh, including 50,000 foreigners. Only 0.5% of foreign tourist arrivals to India visited Kashmir that year. Total tourist arrivals in Kashmir in 2018 was the lowest-ever in the last seven years, showing a decline of 23% from 2017.

This indicates that a lot needs to be done to restore Kashmir Valley to its former glory as the 'Switzerland of India.' Called 'Heaven on Earth' by the Mughals, stricter laws are required to maintain the environmental balance and cultural sustainability of the two northern-most Union Territories.

Article 370 had allowed Jammu and Kashmir to have its own Constitution and prohibited outsiders from buying land and property in the State. At the time of the revocation Home Minister Amit Shah said these provisions would no longer be applicable and the Central Government would restore its statehood at an "appropriate time" and after "normalcy" returns.

Revival of tourism would ensure economic gains for the militancy-affected people of the Union Territories and lead to a return to peaceful conditions. Immediate steps should be taken to develop and promote tourism activities in J & K. Short and long-term plans should be worked out, action be taken in a phased manner and closely monitored by the local and Central Government.

In the first phase, the Government should identify areas which have Tourism potential as well as the basic infrastructure like roads, water, sewerage and electricity, and is safe for tourist visitation.

The next step is to get a feasibility study done by a professional company to prepare a 10-year development plan for creation of Tourism Parks to build hotel accommodation and other related activities as per the feasibility study.

The Government should give land on lease to interested Indian and foreign investors for building of 3, 4 and 5-star Hotels, Ski resorts, Convention centres, Holiday camps, Heliports and other activities like Entertainment, Sports, Shopping centres, as well as Hotel Management and Culinary institutes.

A Tourism Park is a tract of land with defined boundaries for developing an integrated tourism complex, with prescribed carrying capacities, having facilities and activities, maintaining the environment and retaining the culture of the destination.

Benefits to the two Union Territories by creation of Tourism Parks include a higher inflow of investments, increased employment opportunities, easier-to-regulate environment, focused tourism development, and sustainable income by leasing/taxes, etc.

Aerocity hospitality district near Indira Gandhi International Airport is an example of a business model of this type. Built on 50 acres of land, having 12 hotels, 5,000 rooms, it provides employment to 12,000 people directly and about 30,000 indirectly.

In case of J & K, the income from Tourism Parks could be deployed for maintenance, promotion and development of new areas of tourist interest.

Connectivity is important. More airports are necessary as the domestic airports at Jammu and Leh and the international airport of Srinagar are inadequate for future developments. New airports at Gulmarg, Pahalgam and heliports at inaccessible regions are needed and heli-skiing services would become popular.

Roads of world-class standards are required in the Kashmir Valley. Rail services from Srinagar need to be extended to Gulmarg, Pahalgam and other places of tourist interest.

Kashmir was at one time considered internationally popular as a tourist attraction. It was a prized location for Bollywood films. The Dal Lake, Shalimar and Nishat Gardens were well-known pan-India. New locales like Dachigam, Yusmarg and Sonmarg needed to be promoted for Hollywood and Bollywood.

Proud of their centuries-old culture and handicrafts, pheran-wearing craftsmen and women, flag-bearers of the small-scale and cottage industries, have been producing carpets, silks, embroidered shawls, copper and silverware, papier mache and walnut wood carvings. These need to be promoted and exported worldwide.

Aggressive marketing of the attractive features of Kashmir in South-East Asian countries would promote tourism to the region. Tourists from ASEAN countries presently visit Europe to see the snow and for skiing when Kashmir is much closer than Switzerland.

New sports activities like skiing, sledging, snow skating, para-gliding, heli-skiing, fishing and more colourful gardens such as Srinagar's Tulip Gardens need to be promoted worldwide.

The views expressed within this column are the opinion of the author, and may not necessarily be endorsed by the publication.

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