JAMMU: The Chief Secretary, Dr Arun Kumar Mehta on Friday directed the Tourism department to focus on tourist comfort, convenience and satisfaction, improved travel guidance and way finding (e.g. signs, maps and websites available in multiple languages), and the potential benefits of integrating art and cultural amenities (e.g. unique artwork/ large billboards/ hoardings at the railway station, at Lakhanpur border and cultural displays at destinations for enhancing the experience of the tourists to position J&K as a top global brand.
He said the highest ever tourist arrivals in J&K during the last 4 months is the result of the image makeover the UT has undergone along with the development of tourism infrastructure during the last two years.
While complimenting the department on increased tourist activity in J&K, he asked the department to target tourist arrival of 10 lakh in the Valley next year and an aggregate tourist influx of 2 crore in J&K.
He made these observations while reviewing the Capex of the department in which Administrative Secretary, Tourism Department and other senior officers of the department were present.
The Chief Secretary said that as much as the inherent beauty of the place, it is the overall experience of the places the visitors have during their stay that makes the tourist destinations the go to places for others.
Dr Mehta directed the department to involve the local people in and around the tourist destinations in the effort to improve the ambience of the tourist places while further adding that all tourist places need to be advertised on the aesthetically bright and colourful hoardings/billboards on the national highways and other important roads in the UT, especially on the national Highway, Jammu to Katra, Airports at Srinagar and Jammu, and railway stations.
Highlighting the importance of the Akhnoor town as a tourist place, the Chief Secretary directed the department to develop Akhnoor as a popular weekend getaway for the residents of Jammu city and surrounding places after the flyover on Jammu-Akhnor road is constructed by year-end and the travel time to Akhnoor is reduced to 25-30 minutes.
Dr Mehta highlighted the importance of Surinsar as a potentially attractive evening destination for the Jammuites and directed the department to develop the place complete with all recreational activities, improved surroundings and well laid internal roads.
Earlier, Sarmad Hafeez, Administrative Secretary, Tourism department in his presentation informed that during the period from September –December 2021, around 54 lakh tourists have visited J&K, which represents the highest tourist inflow for these months during the last 3 years.
He said that the tourist influx in Kashmir Valley has risen from around 5.65 lakh in 2019 to 6.66 lakh in the year 2021.
Hafeez informed that the tourists have kept visiting J&K in higher numbers despite ongoing Covid pandemic due to extremely good covid containment initiatives taken by the government.
It was further informed that while 224 works under UT Capex have been completed so far, out of 122 works under PMDP, 94 works have been completed and the remaining 28 works will be completed as per the set timelines.
Giving details of the various tourism activities initiated by the department, Hafeez informed that the snow scooters have been introduced in Sonmarg and ice skating rink has been made fully functional in Gulmarg.
He further said that city/ heritage tour campaigns have been launched in the capital cities of Jammu and Srinagar in collaboration with SRTC and JKTDC.
While directing that all 582 works targeted for completion during the current fiscal year should be completed by the end of the current financial year, the Chief Secretary asked the department to put all unutilized assets to use by 31st March, 2022.
Saying that tourism has great capacity to create large scale employment of diverse kind from the most specialized to the unskilled, Dr Mehta asked the department to look for complementarities/synergies with other departments to generate economic activity/create productive jobs in the sector.
He directed the department to synergise with Mission Youth for purchase of snow scooters/ATVs under the Scheme to the willing youth in Sonmarg, Gulmarg and Pahalgam and other such like tourist areas to create self employment opportunities for them.
Dr Mehta asked the department to ensure that river cruise in Jehlum river is started by March end this year while further adding that the amphitheatre at Bagh-i-Bahu garden should be put to use by roping in local music groups, theatre groups, local artists etc. or by organizing activities like talent hunt programmes, singing competitions etc. for creating suitable recreational avenues for the interested people.
Dr Mehta asked the department to explore the introduction of laser and sound shows at all the important tourist places, besides facilitating launch of water sports and other sports/adventure related activities on commercial basis in J&K.
The Chief Secretary directed the department to ensure that TRC and cafeteria at Verinag are made to put to use by the department by March 15, 2022.