By Ashfaq Siddiq Dug
Last few years have been quite challenging and daunting for tourism industry of the State especially for Kashmir Valley. The tourist arrivals have been on decline even when private sector, various associations linked with the trade have been trying their best to attract travellers to the State with an active support from the department of tourism in the face of relentless negative media campaign by National print and electronic media.
Since mid 90s, individual tourism players at their own risks conducted marketing campaigns across India and other parts of the world. Not only did they succeed in persuading tour operators to start GIT bookings to Kashmir but FIT bookings also started to trickle in despite negligible help from the state’s Department of Tourism in view of the prevailing situation at that time.
Tourism industry at present has become a favorite punching bag for every person even if he is remotely associated with the sector.
At times its GDP contribution is played down and many a times equated to peace or conflict. The prudence like in treating tourism like any other normal economic activity as is considered in major parts of the world.
Tourism is the third largest industry of the J&K state and a major employment generator and needs Government’s special attention on priority.
Government also has to act tough and ensure extortion in the garb of fares charged by ponywallas or snow scoter owners at Gulmarg or cab drivers at Sonmarg.
Stakeholders have time and again brought this into to the notice of concerned authorities but due to political patronage government has failed to bring any positive change.
It has brought bad name to Kashmir tourism and if it continues unchecked the time isn’t far that travellers will boycott these resorts if not mended now.
Though, pilgrim tourists like Amarnath Yatris are also welcome and are our valued guests, but in the name of providing them foolproof security arrangements, the authorities are restricting the normal movement of leisure tourists which also brings bad image to our State.
Leisure tourists spend money for comfortable holidays but when their movement is hindered they leave with bad memories. Government has to ensure their movement to and fro any tourists spot is hassle-free.
Gulmarg Gondola suffered two major breakdowns and an accident in January this year despite the fact that the cooperation is generating profit consistently.
Though safety of passengers is paramount but the roster of normal maintenance be implemented and strictly followed. The major repairs should be undertaken during lean period of the season.
The question is why Corporation doesn’t keep those spare parts which suffer regular wear and tear so that time to import them is avoided. Moreover is it just a co-incidence that only 1st Phase is marred with maintenance issues or glitches or is there any other side of story as well.
We have almost lost three consecutive years of tourism to dismal tourist footfall. If god forbid its continues through the year 2019, then our tourism industry which is already on the brink of bankruptcy will be doomed. The State will have to cope up with a mammoth task of adjusting an unemployed work force of around five lakh who are directly or indirectly employed with this industry.
The tourism industry also feeds other major sectors including handicrafts, horticulture, transport and any decline in tourism has a proportional negative impact on these already ailing sectors.
Government doesn’t have to take this department at par with other departments as its domain is not confined within the State or Country but worldwide.
Above all, tourism is the face of the State and government is duty bound to ensure that officers posted at this department are conversant with the subject and have better communication and interpersonal skills to represent the State at various levels and at various forums. However, it is ironic that Department is headless for last 20 days.
Administration at higher level should also take stakeholders into confidence for their valuable inputs before transferring or brining in new officers to the department.
The department’s role has to be exploited to its full potential by actively coordinating with its allied departments like JKTDC, SKICC, JK Cable Car Corporation and most importantly its stakeholders.
Tourism sector needs a serious handholding from government at this crucial juncture when it is passing through patch which needs to be plugged by the coordinated efforts from service providers and the authorities alike.
(The author is President of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir President).