Inviting concrete suggestions from those who matter in the field of tourism, Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Saturday called for a fresh roadmap to reinvigorate the state’s travel industry by integrating leisure, adventure, heritage and pilgrim tourism. He said the recommendations should also suggest the manner in which the negative perception about travelling to J&K could be dispelled. “Tourism industry has a multiplier effect in terms of livelihood generation. We need to formulate a strategy to address lack of infrastructure and gaps in hospitality sector to excel as a leading global travel destination,” he said. The Chief Minister made these remarks here at Pahalgam Club while chairing the first meeting of the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), constituted recently to advise and suggest measures for tourism development, promotion and publicity as well as creation of high-end infrastructure. The meeting was attended by all its members including former Union Tourism Secretary, Parvez Dewan, Chairman-cum-MD, ITDC, Umang Narula, Member, National Monuments Authority of India, Ministry of Culture, Mohammad Salim Beigh and Secretary Tourism, Farooq Ahmad Shah. They are scheduled to hold various sessions to come up with a fresh blueprint that provides fillip to the travel industry, which remains J&K’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Calling for short and long-term measures to harness the tourism potential, Mufti Sayeed said he has sought cooperation from top media houses to overcome the barriers on negative perceptions being floated about travelling to Kashmir so that footprint of tourists is enlarged. “I had a fruitful meeting with the country’s main broadcasters who were in the summer capital recently. They promised to help change the negative vibes about Kashmir,” he said, while referring to his recent meeting with senior members of the Indian Broadcasters Foundation (IBF). The Chief Minister, during a meeting with a visiting Australian delegation held last month, had also highlighted the steps required to be taken to convince some countries to withdraw their travel advisories on travelling to J&K. It was given out in the meeting that a Media Conclave of top names in the Fourth Estate will be held in the ski resort of Gulmarg later this year to help change the mindset of people about visiting Kashmir. Advocating friendly relations with Pakistan, the Chief Minister said lasting and sustainable peace is a prerequisite for making tourism a robust and vibrant industry in J&K. He described the travel industry as a very vital confidence building measure and expressed his happiness about the recent visit to Valley by some golfers from the neighbouring country. Asking private stakeholders in the tourism sector to play an active role in creating niche facilities for high-end travellers, the Chief Minister called upon the members to conceive a model of public-private interface which aims at creating sustainable tourism infrastructure that will help in positioning J&K as an all-season destination. He brought to fore the tourism’s huge potential as a rallying point around which the state’s economy can be rebuild in a big way. “Travel industry remains our biggest strength which offers plethora of opportunities in ever-expanding job market,” he said, while referring to the cascading effect it has on other essential services linked to tourism like the hospitality and handicraft sectors. The Chief Minister also stressed upon augmenting the room capacity for middle-rung visitors, which he said contributes significantly to the tourism-related economy of the state. On the Ease of Business front, the Chief Minister was informed by Secretary Tourism about ‘Single Window Mechanism’ established by the Department to speed up clearances of tourism-related proposals. He also referred to the recently-launched chopper service to Gulmarg and Pahalgam as a huge step which will provide further impetus to convention and golf tourism. Describing state’s tourism industry as capital-intensive where private stakeholders raise institutional finance to match benchmark infrastructure, Mufti Sayeed said if the business volume declines, profits earned by the industry also experience a sharp fall. To overcome this, he called for structured planning which brings new scenic spots on the tourism map of the state, besides fabled places like Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Patnitop as top winter destinations. This, he said will increase tourist footprint and allow equally charming destinations like Kokernag, Aharbal, Bhaderwah, Sanasar, Bangus, Daksum and Basohli to emerge on the tourism horizon of the state. Parvez Dewan, in his remarks, suggested the need to focus more on domestic tourist arrivals, particularly from Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal, from which the state receives highest footfall of tourists. On the issue of building capacities in the services sectors connected to tourism industry, Umang Narula proposed conducting a training programme by ITDC for youth from J&K to hone their skills in the hospitality sector. Former DG Tourism Salim Beigh, in his remarks, suggested organizing a National Folk Festival in the state which will provide a window to integrate culture and heritage with state’s tourism industry. Bharat Chaudhary of KC Residency suggested the possibilities of linking sports events with the state’s travel industry. To explore the possibilities of expanding scope of adventure tourism, some of the members also suggested holding of a Himalayan Travel Mart in the state as well as working out a well-thought out strategy for brand positioning Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh as a wholesome destination for travellers from within and outside the country. Also present were Director Tourism, Jammu, R. K. Verma, Director Tourism, Kashmir, Mahmood Ahmad Shah, CEO, PDA, Riyaz Ahmad Wani, CEO Gulmarg, Nazir Ahmad, Rafi Ahmad Mir from Hotel Volga, Mushtaq Ahmad Burza from Ahad Group of Hotels & Resorts, Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya of Grand Mumtaz Group, Arun Pathak, Vice President, ITC Group of Hotels, Omar Tramboo of Khyber Resorts & Spa, Bharat Choudhary of KC Residency, Chander Gupta of Fortune Riviera, Prof. Prikshit Singh Manhas, Director, School of Tourism & Hospitality Studies, Jammu University, K. B. Kachroo of Radison Group of Hotels, Mohammad Ibrahim Siyah, President, TASK, Rajesh Gupta, Chairman, Tourism Federation of Jammu and Rakesh Mathur, Honorary Secretary, Eco-Tourism Society of India.
2015 Kashmir Despatch