Skyrocketing tourism growth in Kashmir fills strategic gaps

Tourism in post-Article 370 repeal has become a strategic asset for stakeholders in Kashmir as more than two million arrivals till the end of August changed the way tourism was viewed in previous years . Until yesterday, tourism was considered a rewarding activity for the economy, creating jobs, but there was always a fear that terrorism could disrupt it halfway or even before the start of the season.

This year – 2022 – has shown that Kashmir is a year-round tourist destination, not just a vacation spot during summers or skiing on the snowy slopes. He did a big shit in the prism of how Kashmir was looked at, perceived and publicized as a place known for its beauty and extraordinary hospitality. This is true for most tourist spots in the country, but converting it into a tourist destination 12 months a year has been a feat.

Two views emerged from this – (a) tourism in Kashmir is uninterrupted in all four seasons – spring when the valley is blessed with flowering everywhere, floods which make the mountains more beautiful and the bodies of water – rivers, lakes and acquisition novelty in their shimmering colors; (b) it has added to people’s confidence that things are going well and tourists from various parts of the country are keen to engage with tourist resorts as well as people beyond industry stakeholders tourism. The new people-to-people bond has emerged.

This perception has changed due to the mutual trust that tourists have in locals and vice versa. “This trust encourages us to do more for tourists. We know their word of mouth will matter more than anything else, everyone knows that Kashmir is blessed with unparalleled beauty, but when they tell about the inner beauty and love of the people here to their people back home , it generates a bond,” says Mushtaq Chaya, president of the J&K Hoteliers Club, and also one of the leading hoteliers in the Union Territory.

Kashmir is aware that tourism is the most visible activity that promotes the land, creates jobs and enriches the economy, but more importantly, it helps negate the negative perceptions that had spawned because of the 30 year hustle. There were sad incidents – devastating floods in 2014 and massive disruption to normal life due to street protests in 2016. Those years left the tourism industry in tatters and tourists rethinking before embarking on a trip to Kashmir, known as “heaven on earth”. Beauty is good, tourists would say, but safety and security of life is more important.

These unfortunate events have brought difficult times for those involved in the tourism sector. Tourist arrivals were scarce and hoteliers, barge owners had to lay off their staff, while taxis and ponywallahs struggled to make ends meet. These were very difficult times.

Tourism Secretary Sarmad Hafiz is of the opinion that 2022 has changed everything. It has failed to give Kashmiri tourism not only what it wanted revival of the industry that benefits everyone from street vendor to houseboat owner to shikarawalla but also filled the gaps in perceptions about where here and where tourists have come from. The perception has changed – Kashmir now has a positive perception everywhere.

This shift in perceptions, stakeholders believe, will bring in more and more tourists, as it has also spurred them to deliver more than the magnitude of the promises made to them. Filling these gaps will help Kashmir be seen differently in strategic terms, as it has negated the negatives, added the positives and helped it showcase what the real Kashmir is – a land of peace and prosperity .

All stakeholders attributed these positives to the proactive approach of the UT government under Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to make Kashmir shine on the world map. This brings additional benefits as it pushes investors into the country where tourists feel safe and travel in a very positive situation. “We believe that this change of air in Kashmir is beneficial for all. That is why we were pushing this sector from all sides with active public participation,” Manoj Sinha repeated many times.

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