Favoring outsourcing of major tourism infrastructure, Mufti Sayeed said the assets have to become income-generating units so that enough money is channeled back for development of the sector. “The Government will soon promote the majestic Hari Niwas as an elite wedding destination in the summer capital,” he said, while asking the Tourism Department to also focus on high-spending tourists visiting the State.
Elaborating upon measures taken by the Government to showcase J&K as a wholesome tourist destination, the Chief Minister said better connectivity, proper hand holding at airports and railway stations, prepaid taxis and sale of branded, original and price-tagged handicraft products would be provided to the incoming visitors. “Tourist-friendly policing to facilitate the visitors will soon be put into place at the airports and all other known tourist resorts,” he added.
On dovetailing of handicrafts segment with tourism industry, the Chief Minister said he has already passed orders for developing Kashmir Haat as a round-the-year Crafts Centre for showcasing and selling of genuine and branded hand-made products.
Describing Kashmir as a chiseled statue of nature, the Chief Minister highlighted the need for improving road and rail connectivity to the State so that it becomes easily accessible. “We need to take a cue from China which has taken bullet trains even up to the hostile terrain of Lhasa,” he added.
Replying to a specific query by one of the tour operators about the frequent closure of roads that leads to huge financial losses, Mufti Sayeed said the Government will operate Mughal Road as an alternate National Highway, which is also a delightful ride to the Kashmir Valley. “The Mughal Road has been opened for vehicular traffic,” he said.
Describing Kashmir as an all-season tourist destination, Mufti Sayeed said hoteliers from Kashmir have offered discount for travelers in July-October, which is considered off-season in Kashmir. He said the onus is now on tour operators to design good packages for intending visitors, in consultation with their local counterparts. “Better intra-state and inter-state coordination between tour operators shall prove to be beneficial to both stakeholders in J&K as well the tourists and tour operators,” he added.
Emphasizing upon the steps taken to increase intake capacity, Mufti Sayeed said the Government will take up the issue of operating chartered flights between Delhi and Srinagar to check rising air fares as well as running special trains from Ahmedabad, Delhi, Pune and Mumbai to Jammu to provide alternate mode of transport to the travelers.
Focusing on promotion of elite leisure activities, the Chief Minister said emphasis is being laid on golfing, conference and corporate tourism for which tie-ups with leading business firms and companies will be shortly worked out. “RSGC is one of the best golf courses in the country. We will also market courses at Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sidhra in a big way to woo high-end golf lovers,” he added.
Asking the department to focus on adventure tourism including trekking, mountaineering and car rallies, Mufti Sayeed said separate car rallies from Anantnag, Sinthan, Kishtwar to Bhaderwah and Srinagar, Mughal Road to Jammu will be organized. “The potential of J&K in mountaineering expeditions is huge. We plan to promote Nun Kun in Kargil, Pahalgam-Panikher (Zanskar) and Sinthan-Kishtwar this season for avid mountain lovers,” he said and stressed on starting excursions for our youth and school-going children to places like Gangabal lake.
Describing promotion of tourism as a collective responsibility of Government and private tour operators, Minister for Finance, Dr. Haseeb A. Drabu, said it is time that steps are taken to bridge the gap between perception and reality that exists in J&K. “We have to convert vicious cycle into virtuous cycle. You are at the intersection between business and society and our natural corollary in taking J&K on top of the tourism sector,” he said while referring to the role of tour operators in promoting tourism in the State.
Speaking on the occasion, the Additional Secretary, Union Ministry of Tourism, Girish Chander, revealed several steps taken to improve tourism sector in the State which comprise restoration of flood-damaged infrastructure and establishment of pilgrims centres including Buddhist Centre at Leh and International Yoga Centre at Mantalai.
He said the Central Government will also start a ski championship for tourists in Gulmarg shortly. “Already three separate promotional films on Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are being telecast on various entertainment and business channels,” he added.
Several heads of leading travel and tour associations gave valuable suggestions on improving footprint of tourists in the State which include improving air connectivity to remote tourist destinations by developing‘Greenfield Airstrips’ for fixedwing aircraft carrying 15-25 passengers, rationalization of air fares, e-marketing, fair-weather road connectivity, promotion of lesser-known spots, creation of a Heritage Tourism Board, Business Plan for 10 Top Tourism Segments, marketing packages into season-wise segments, better golf marketing, increase in private accommodation, better PR exercise by State Government, FAM Trips, checking harassment and fleecing of tourists, maintenance of heritage assets like Mughal Gardens, and focus on highlighting J&K’s rich cultural treasure.
Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, B. B. Vyas, Commissioner / Secretary, Tourism & Culture, Shailendra Kumar, MD JKTDC and Director Tourism, Kashmir, Farooq Ahmad Shah, were also present. The galaxy of tour and travel heads from Federation of Association of Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH), ADTOI, TAAI, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India, KCCI and J&K Hoteliers Club participated in the conclave.