By Shakir Shafiq Qadri
IT’S a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. You are basking in the soft warmth of the sun when you hear a knock on your door. To your great pleasure, you receive an invitation from your relative to be a guest at a traditional Kashmiri wedding. The thought of enjoying mouth-watering ‘Wazwan’ enthralls you. Come the wedding day, you put on the best dress in your closet; you wear the most expensive perfume and envelop a hefty sum of money to be given away as the wedding gift or ‘Vartaav’. You almost decide in favour of taking a friend long but eventually drop the idea. You leave the comfort of your home but just as you reach your destination, you find out that there is no parking space available. You go through a lot of hassle and finally get to park your vehicle half a mile away from the wedding house. Your beautiful dress glistens in sweat and is covered in dust but still enthusiastic, you walk to the wedding house only to see a crowd of people waiting outside. It is revealed to you that the ‘Shamyana’ is still being put into place and that the ‘Vartaav’ is being collected in the mean time. Your money filled envelope is snatched out of your hands by a relative despite your best efforts to hold on to it. You stand outside in a crowd feeling unimportant and insulted but the thought of having a full course ‘Wazwan’ is what keeps you from throwing a hissy fit. When the time arrives and you finally get to eat, you find out that the ‘Traami’ doesn’t include your favorite dishes; the ones that you were craving most. Feeling disappointed, you finish eating and head back to your car only to find out that it has been taken away by transport authorities for wrong parking. It’s a nightmare and too much to take for a sensitive person like you. And it is then and there that you vow that you will never respond to an invitation if it comes from this relative of yours. You thank your stars that you didn’t bring your friend along to experience it otherwise you wouldn’t have heard the end of it. You take another vow: To never recommend anyone to visit this relative who had been the worst of hosts to you. But what drove you to take such vows?
The tourist that visits any destination is much more sensitive than a guest that visits a wedding party. She plans her trip for months, considers her budget, explores the vast array of options in the world of tourism, chooses Kashmir as her go to destination and waits with tremendous excitement before she finally leaves the comfort of her home to give Kashmir the opportunity to host her. How appalling a dishonor to such an opportunity it is that many a time we fall short of providing a fulfilling experience to such a tourist, owing to our limitations on the basic infrastructure front. The infrastructure that is being referred to here includes good roads, appropriate parking spaces, uninterrupted telecom connectivity, robustly working public transport system, qualified human resource, measures to ensure safety and security, so on and so forth.
It has become a cliché to call Kashmir the heaven on earth. It’s a brilliant piece of marketing that every time someone utters the word ‘Kashmir’, the same slogan of Kashmir being paradise comes to our mind. Another feature of the tourism experience that Kashmir offers is its world renowned hospitality. From a street vendor to a general manager of a five star hotel, everybody works tirelessly with smiles on their faces to be a cause of pleasure for Kashmir’s guests. However, the magnificent beauty that nature has bestowed upon our valley and the welcoming behavior of our gracious people can only take us so far. The 21st century tourist demands more than this. She demands a wholesome experience where she could get away from the worries of the corporate world that she is trying to get a break from. She insists for a unique feel which could present to her something different than what she has already felt in her previous travels. In the sphere of tourism, destinations across the globe are coming up with effective strategies to rope in more number of tourists. For instance, Japan is seeing a surge in the number of its inbound tourists due to its advances in robotics. Tourism stakeholders have used Japan’s scientific growth to draw hordes of people to it by organizing novel robotics fairs. However, this innovative niche market could only be thought of when Japan had already developed the basic infrastructure which could act as a foundation to any future strategies. In a similar manner, booming economies like UAE are examining the prospects of making the highly lucrative space tourism a reality for elite tourists. Could it be imagined that UAE would have conceived the idea of sending tourists to space if they didn’t even have well built roads to show to the average tourist who visits the country? The very thought of it is laughable! It wouldn’t be marketing but DE-MARKETING of the highest order which would in fact push tourists away.
In a world where nations are exhausting their energies in order to come up with brand new USPs for their tourism products, how long can we hold on to the ‘Kashmir is paradise’ slogan while calling tourists to visit us? How long should we be dependent solely upon Kashmir’s natural beauty to be a pull factor for tourists without supplementing it with the required infrastructure? How long before the massive potholes on our roads make a statement louder than our ‘Kashmir is paradise’ slogan?
Indeed we have marketed Kashmir as a destination for nature tourism which in theory doesn’t require us to necessarily build, for example, enough parking lots, but it isn’t farfetched to say that the excuse of nature tourism has made us lethargic. Or perhaps if we flip the argument, we would notice that it is due to our sluggish attitude that we don’t even try to nourish this nature tourism that we boast about. Again, a problem that could be associated with an aspect of infrastructural support, that is, lack of determined human resources.
The concerned governmental bodies like J&K Tourism Development Corporation and J&K Tourism invest an unimaginable amount of public money for purposes of aggressive marketing of Kashmir as a tourist destination. The financial capital is, for instance, utilized for the purpose of arranging national and international tours for Tourism officials who aren’t even tourism professionals equipped with relevant academic backgrounds. The picture which is then painted to the target market is so rosy that many a time we fall short to deliver in accordance with the expectations of the inbound tourist; the expectations which WE had raised in the first place without having put quality infrastructure in place. Wouldn’t it be in our own interests that a portion of this money be used for purposes of enhancing our Tourism product before going out all guns blazing on the marketing front? For example, there is a dire need of raising the skill levels of Tourism professionals and stake holders in the state through proper counseling and awareness programs but little attention is given to it.
The tourism industry, unlike most other industries, isn’t confined by set boundaries. It draws strength from all aspects of the society, both tangible and intangible. Increasing the annual tourist footfall is no mean feat and requires us to channelize all our energies and talents to create synergy. It requires a holistic approach so that we could present a well nurtured soul of our beloved Kashmir, the allure of which would then compel a tourist to keep coming back and ask for more.
The author is a Master of tourism management and can be reached at Email ID: [email protected]
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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