In order to position Kashmir as an ideal tourist destination matching international standards, Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Monday advocated augmentation of infrastructure in hospitality sector to attract high-end tourists. He sought cooperation from the national media in changing the negative perception, which has plagued Kashmir for quite some time. “Tourist arrivals this year have been below expectations. Tourism has to brace up for bigger challenges ahead,” he stated. The Chief Minister said this after stone-laying foundation ceremony to launch historic Hotel Nedou’s in a new avatar of ITC hotel, here today. Former Chief Minister, Omar Abullah, Minister for Public Works, Syed Altaf Bukhari, Minister for Finance, Labour & Employment and Culture, Dr. Haseeb A. Drabu, Nakul Anand, Chief Executive of the Hotels Divisions of ITC Group and Mushtaq Burza, Chairman, Ahad Group of Hotels and Resorts, were also present on the occasion. Welcoming the initiative taken by ITC Group to foray into the elite hospitality sector in the valley, Mufti Sayeed said high-end tourism will get a huge fillip if we are able to attract big investment in the hospitality sector. He described Nedou’s as a heritage and asked the ITC to keep intact the heritage character of Hotel Nedou’s, which he said can become its unique selling proposition. “It has a prime location and I am sure that ITC will be able to create world-class facilities for inbound tourists with high-spending power,” he said, while also stressing upon enhancing intake capacity for middle-rung tourists visiting the state. Referring to the strong influence of Iran and Central Asia on the culture and handicraft of Kashmir, Mufti Sayeed it was valley’s unmatched scenic beauty that drove tourists to the place in large numbers. He said during British rule, Kashmir was promoted as an independent tourism destination, which culminated after independence. “Unfortunately, during militancy, the sector suffered a huge setback, which adversely affected the economy of the state,” he added. Linking tourism to employment, the Chief Minister hoped that with advent of peace, the tourism industry will be able to bounce back. He said there is enough scope for creating high-end infrastructure for which the government will formulate a strategy which is in tune with revised Master Plans of summer capital and other health resorts. “Revised Master Plan for Pahalgam has been approved while as those for Srinagar, Gulmarg and several other tourist destinations across the state are being finalized,” he added. Emphasizing upon building capacities in the tourism and hospitality sectors, the Chief Minister highlighted the need for sustained training of personnel associated with delivering hospitality services. “I hope ITC Group will be engaging skilled workforce from within the valley once their hotels are up and running,” he said. Urging people to see Kashmir beyond the prism of Gulmarg and Pahalgam, Mufti Sayeed said there are several other idyllic destinations like Yusmarg, Dudpathri, Aharbal and Daksum that need to be promoted and brought onto the tourism map of the state. Stating that the people have gone through very difficult times in the recent past, the Chief Minister said the role of media in changing the negative perception about Kashmir is significant. “We are a great example of multiculturalism,” he said, while referring to the Amarnath Yatra, which concluded peacefully last month. The Chief Minister said that with peace returning, the state will witness an infrastructure boom for which skilled human resource is of paramount importance. “I urge the doctors, engineers and businessmen who left when the state fell on hard times to return and play their role in its overall development,” he added. Minister for Public Works, Syed Altaf Bukhari, in his address, said the government has flagged road connectivity and communication as priority sectors. He said under the leadership of Mufti Sayeed, the people will enjoy the rich dividends of peace by putting back on rails. Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Finance & Culture, Dr. Haseeb A. Drabu, welcomed the partnership between a Kashmir-based tourism firm and an elite company like ITC with proven track record, which he hoped will become sustainable in future. He hoped that such collaboration by ITC will go beyond tourism landscape and venture into other sectors to make J&K an attractive investment destination. On this occasion, ITC Group and Ahad Hotels and Resorts inked two proposals for promotion of Heevan Resorts Srinagar and Hotel Pine & Peaks Pahalgam as ITC Welcome Group destinations hotels. Also present were Minister for Horticulture, Haj & Auqaf, A. R. Veeri, Minister for Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs, Syed Basharat Bukhari, Minister for IT, YS&S and Technical Education, Imran Raza Ansari, Minister of State of Health & Social Welfare, Aiesa Naqash, Legislators, Mohammad Khalil Bandh, Zahoor Ahmad Mir, Ajaz Ahmad, Abdul Rahim Rather, Zaffar Manhas, Yasir Reshi, Farooq Andrabi, Secretary Tourism, Farooq Ahmad Shah and Chief Operating Officer of ITC Group, Deepak Haksar, besides MD Ahad Group of Hotel & Resorts, Asif Burza.
2015 Kashmir Despatch