The return of trouble, albeit on a smaller scale, has been a cause of worry for traders and other stakeholders in the tourism sector.
Srinagar: The recent trouble in parts of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the wake of killing of 13 militants and five civilians in security forces' stepped up counter-insurgency measures in Valley have set alarming bells ringing in the tourism sector.
The escalation of hostilities came at a time when tourist arrivals were increasing after a dip in 2016 and early 2017 in the aftermath of a public unrest set off by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
The return of trouble, albeit on a smaller scale, has been a cause of worry for traders and other stakeholders in the tourism sector. Tourism officials say their efforts to attract visitors get wasted if isolated incidents of violence in the Valley are reported by the outside media “exaggeratedly”.
While private tour operators, houseboat owners and hoteliers are trying to attract domestic tourists and foreign ones, particularly from Southeast Asia and the Gulf, the tourist authorities and other agencies are leaving no stone unturned either.
Tassaduq Hussain Mufti, the tourism minister, said that the government has adopted a multi-pronged strategy to harness the tourism potential and position the state as a leading tourist destination. “The idea is to make the tourism sector as the principal engine of J&K’s economy,” he said.
“To achieve the target, we plan to make the state a hub that is natural in its environs, global in standards, modern in outlook, traditional in its hospitality, mystical in sensibilities and entertaining in its experience.”
Quoting figures, he said 12,27,764 domestic and foreign tourists visited the Valley in 2017, while 9,22,800 and 2,30,662 visited Jammu and Ladakh respectively in the same year. Also, 2,59,581 devotees visited the state to offer prayers at Amarnath cave-shrine and 81,70,880 at Vaishno Devi shrine last year.
To restore the tourists’ confidence, the tourism department launched a video clip “Kashmir the warmest place on earth”, which has become a social media sensation. The message is that tourists across the globe are invited to J&K to see its beauty, Mr Mufti said.
The government has launched a drive to revitalise J&K and rebrand it as a global destination for “rich” tourists, especially to increase tourism revenue. To this end, the government has developed a number of golf courses and several adventure tourism avenues, including base camps, river cruises, light and sound shows, paragliding and water sports facilities at Nunkun, Kargil, Patnitop, Wullar, Naranag and Dhara Harwan. Asias largest tulip garden in Srinagar, containing over 12 lakh tulips, is another attraction. Pilgrimage centres are being promoted. The Union ministry of tourism has sanctioned Rs 42 crore to develop Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar under pilgrimage rejuvenation and spiritual augmentation drive (Prasad). This apart, a project has been launched for integrated development of Katra, the base camp of Vaishno Devi shrine in Trikuta hills of Jammu.
To tap the tourist inflow from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, water parks are being set up at Manasbal (Kashmir Valley) and Basohli and Pull Doda (Jammu region), while Keran-Teetwal, Chakan-da-Bagh, Nowshera, Salamabad (Uri), Karnah and Rawlakot close to the Line of Control (LoC) — civilians were not allowed in these places — have now been thrown open.