Getting Tourism Right

Last week this newspaper carried a letter from one Gulzar Hussain bemoaning the pathetic state of tourism in the state. Hussain, a member of the Tourist Trade Fraternity, drew an exact picture of the poor infrastructure which puts off the tourists. “The dark streets and the black nights. Electricity is snapped soon after a slight drizzle or wind in the tourist areas of Dalgate, Boulevard and nearby localities,” Hussain wrote. He raised an important point about the extravagant foreign jaunts by the bureaucrats purportedly to promote Kashmir as a tourist destination. However, there is little proof that such jaunts at the expense of the tax payers’ money have brought more tourists to the state. It would certainly be enlightening to find out if these so called foreign tourism festivals have been worth the money spent on them. On the contrary, the number of the foreign tourist arrivals in the state has been in perpetual decline over the years. And the reasons for this are many. One overriding factor has been the turmoil in the state over the past 25 years and the consequent advisories on the state by some major western countries. 

Though situation has improved over the past decade, it has not translated into more foreign tourist footfalls. The unpredictability and uncertainty of the situation has also not been of any help. The intermittent reverses in the security situation and its reflection in the media sets back tourism. And this is a drawback that can hardly be undone by the foreign jaunts of the babus of tourism department. This is not to say that the publicity in foreign countries is not important. It is of critical importance.  But an advertisement in a foreign newspaper or television channel will be much more effective than a jaunt which turns out to be a little more than a junket. 

To its credit, this government has made some serious efforts to increase the tourist inflow. Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed, who also holds the tourism portfolio went on a whirlwind tour of Mumbai and Gujarat to woo Bollywood and the tourists back to Valley. In Mumbai, Mufti had meetings with Dilip Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan. He threw a dinner for a galaxy of leading film stars, producers and directors to prevail on them to return to shoot movies in Kashmir. He also met Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The CM later went to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat  where he praised the PM and invited the Gujarati tourists in large numbers to his state, assuring that anyone violating law and order situation in Kashmir will be dealt with firmly. 

The government is working hard to resuscitate the Valley’s tourist scene following the devastating September flood. The flood hit tourism hard. Overnight the tourist arrivals reduced to zero with all hotel bookings up to early winter cancelled. But there are some fundamental infrastructural infirmities that undercut all the government efforts to promote tourism. As Hussain underlined in his letter, the Valley lacks the basic facilities like “uninterrupted power supply, good roads, well-lit streets and safe habitations free of dogs”. And in the absence of such facilities, any tourist who visits the state goes back disappointed – finding a wide gap between the Valley’s image as the paradise on earth and its decrepit infrastructure. They never return to Valley and second they don’t spread good word about the state. So, if the government is really serious about increasing tourist footfalls, it has to first get the basic infrastructure right.

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