Following the maiden meeting of the State Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), chaired by the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, here on Saturday, the members held wide-ranging discussions to suggest short-term and long-term measures aimed at heralding J&K’s resurgence as a mainstream and wholesome travel destination. 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, besides several other TAB members participated in the meeting, which has been held at a time when the tourism sector is witnessing remarkable boom in the country. With its majestic mountains, lush flower-dotted valleys and the opportunity to relax in wooden houseboats along the edge of Srinagar’s famed Dal Lake or pay obeisance at the holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi and Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh, J&K’s enchanting beauty has always enticed visitors in droves in the past. During the deliberations, the members noted the importance of activating the role of the Advisory Board in achieving the goals of catapulting J&K’s tourism industry to greater heights. It also highlighted linking tourism with hospitality, handicraft and heritage sectors, which will broaden the canvas of state’s travel industry. The members unanimously agreed to study various tourism models in the country so that its best practices in ‘high-end clientele satisfaction’ are emulated and incorporated in the Draft Tourism Policy of the state, which was also circulated amongst the members. To overcome the apprehensions of the travellers on the security front when they alight at the airports or railway stations, the members suggested people-friendly handholding which will guide them to their destinations in a hassle-free manner. This, they said will dispel many fears lurking in the mind of the visitors about travelling to the state. The members also called for engaging top PR agencies at New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Ahmedabad to counter negative publicity, which seriously hampers tourist footfall in the state. The meeting also highlighted the need to enhance web presence of the tourism sector, in particular on social media sites like the Facebook and Twitter. In order to coordinate the efforts of the government on tourism promotion, a single chain of command at our tourist destinations like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Patnitop and Bhaderwah was strongly recommended by the Board wherein all Line Departments would be brought under the administrative control of the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the Tourism Development Authorities, who are senior-level government officer. To showcase J&K as an ideal destination which offers treasure of riches in leisure, adventure, golf, pilgrim and heritage tourism, the members suggested annual calendar of holding fixed events like Himalayan Travel Mart and National Folk Theatre Festival as season beginning or season-ending exercises. Similarly, in order to reach out to tour and travel operators, the members also suggested presence of J&K in all travel marts in and outside the country. FAM (Familiarity) Tours of business firms from Korea and Japan, where from J&K receives a large number of tourists, will also be organized in April next year to promote convention and golf tourism in the state. Similarly, road shows will also be held to improve footprint of tourists to the state. Considering the huge influx of pilgrims to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine at Katra, which touches 1 crore every year, the members suggested several packages which give visitors a chance to explore Jammu’s leisure destinations. This follows the commitment of the Chief Minister to promote Jammu as an independent tourist destination by promoting Ranjit Sagar (Basohli) and Baghliar (Ramban) Dams as tourist spots, besides Sanasar, Jai-Bhaderwah, Sinthan Top, Marwah and Wadwan in Kishtwar. On the suggestion put forth by some tour and travel operators in the meeting chaired by Chief Minister yesterday, the members also called for devising a strategy which focuses on attracting some visitors from Katra to Kashmir. The Tourism Advisory Board also decided to prepare a comprehensive roadmap on promotion of Ladakh as a spiritual and adventure destination. The members suggested sustained marketing to highlight Ladakh’s rich Buddhist culture and its unrivalled potential in mountaineering, hiking and trekking expeditions. On tapping adventure tourism potential, the members emphasized upon identifying para-gliding sites at Sanasar (Jammu) and Dara (Srinagar). To promote heli-skiing and air safaris, in which the state has great potential, the Advisory Board strongly recommended time-bound and prompt permissions for helicopter services for high-end travellers. Some of the members also suggested extending ‘Freight Equalization Subsidy’ to major satellite channels in Hindi, Gujarati and Bengali for showcasing Jammu & Kashmir in their serials. In order to make tourism a revenue generating industry, the Advisory Board pitched for adopting Swiss Challenge Model for outsourcing of assets. It also suggested proper categorization of hotels and service providers so that benchmark facilities are provided to the visitors, keeping in mind the dynamic index of ‘Customer Satisfaction’. Stressing upon diversification of tourism industry, most of the members agreed to approach ITDC (Indian Tourism Development Corporation) to hold light-and-sound shows at various destinations like forts and Char Chinari, amidst the Dal Lake. The meeting also discussed the need for creating Land Banks around various potential resorts like Bangus, Marwah, Warwan, Dudpathri and Aharbal for developing tourism-related infrastructure, with special emphasis upon enhancing the intake capacity of new and upcoming destinations. To build capacities in hospitality sector, the strong underbelly of the tourism industry, the Advisory Board called for advanced training by Institute of Hotel Management (IHM) and Food Craft Institutes (FCI) at Leh and Jammu. With state blessed with abundance of water bodies, the members stressed upon organizing events in rafting and regatta, especially targeting educational institutions both from within and outside the state. Also present in the deliberation were Director Tourism, Jammu, R. K. Verma, Director Tourism, Kashmir, Mahmood Ahmad Shah, Prof. Prikshit Singh Manhas, Director, School of Tourism & Hospitality Studies, Jammu University, 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, 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