The state government needs to take a hard look at the tourism sectors performance this year not in terms of numbers or the bottom-line of profit, but in terms of the quality of services and facilities available. Authorities must take special note of hotel occupancy, the demand thereof, and juxtapose the two with arrivals who were left without accommodation. The central government may have raised a hue and cry with respect to vacating hotels still under paramilitary troopers, but authorities here or in New Delhi have not spelled out clearly whether the thousands of rooms supposed to be freed have actually been made available.
A strong note of caution is direly necessary amid the euphoria of a booming summer. If tour operators, houseboat owners, hoteliers and others involved in the tourist trade fail to put their heads together with the government for a fair and realistic idea of the infrastructure available, and plan bookings and travel accordingly, the next season could well be one of chaos rather than of satisfaction. Unforseen problems are bound to sour the taste in the month if large numbers of tourists are seen spending nights shelter-less (as happened this year) because of over-booking and bad planning. The government attempted fire-fighting operations with a thoroughly short-sighted move to provide incentives for turning private residences into temporary guesthouses. This is a move fraught with serious complications the valley could well do without.
After 1996, several initiatives were taken to revive tourism: loans were announced for boatmen, there were steps for waiving interest on loans taken by hoteliers and houseboat owners. Substantial financial assistance was also announced to some hoteliers for renovation, and a publicity campaign of sorts undertaken to kick-start the industry. But when the ground situation showed no signs of a significant improvement for long, the tourism sector failed to get really going. But the scenario in terms of arrivals is drastically different today, to the extent of being turned into political propaganda. This has to be resisted. For the calms of Kashmir are famous for being skin-deep, and the situation notorious for being unpredictable. There is no saying when someone will get caught in the cross-fire of some ambush, and no foretelling whether or not a fair inquiry will prove him anything other than a civilian. This summer was only the second period of calm after three consecutive violent and bloody seasons, and it would be only the utterly foolish who would not keep fingers crossed.
With hopes that the calm shall hold, future projections for the industry depend in large measure on the bureaucracy as well. Should the tempo of the trade sustain, the sector must not be allowed to turn into a vested interest for sections of this lucky class whose past veterans have a history of running departments as fiefdoms. Such performance makes for strong inspiration, particularly in cultures steeped in traditions not only of on-the-sly riches, manufactured reputations and political clout, but also of initiating processes with long-term ramifications. Heavy responsibility lies on the sections of the government machinery involved with tourism. On what lines this trade evolves in the coming years depends on those framing policy.
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