Tourism Talk

Politicians have always projected tourism as the barometer of the improved situation and the backbone to the fragile economy of Kashmir. It suited them politically, though it always was in direct confrontation with the facts on ground. Over the years, the misplaced policymaking had paved way for undue investment of public money in off shore tours and travels of a select few for promoting tourism. Not in so distant past, J&K contributed a good amount in holding of a Bollywood event far away abroad.

The fact is that the arrivals are either the outcome of keenness at the level of visitors – which was obvious even at the peak of militancy when foreigners would land despite the advisories by their countries, or simply the efforts of the stakeholders in the hospitality sector. In the evolving policy making, both these contributions were elbowed out by officials.

Last week, state’s finance minister Dr Haseeb Drabu candidly explained that methods used to lure tourists to Kashmir are obviously faulty. If the government goes hawking the safety of tourists in Kashmir, then the local residents have to be safe first, he argued, while talking to a conclave on tourism. If Kashmir is not paradise for its residents, it can not be a paradise for tourists, he added.

Drabu, a former editor, also addressed the oft-repeated accusations by the hospitality sector that ‘negative publicity’ was killing the sector. He suggested well-planned strategy to fight it though it is a fact that no news media can kill a sector. His most important point was that Kashmir is habitually bragging as being international tourist destination without actually making it one.

His assertions have triggered a good response at the ground level. Even the stakeholders are happy but will not be openly complimenting the commentary because it can annoy the system. But these assertions should not get into the vacuum of policymaking.

Kashmir has evolved its hospitality sector in last more than 150 years. In order to see it happen, the people have invested their blood, especially during the days when they would carry the European visitors on their backs and palanquins from the Indian plains as there were no roads and obviously no vehicles. Even the creation of the first hotel took almost fifty years.

With the advent of pilgrim tourism, apparently being used more for reasons of politics than faith, the situation has gone completely complex. Instead of being a money-spinner, this is gradually emerging as a major threat to a fragile ecology.

Tourism is a contributor to the state’s domestic product, only third or fourth. But the politicians and the stakeholders have been using and abusing its cascading impact in such a way that it was even dwarfing the horticulture and also the handicrafts, the main bread and butter of the place.

There is urgency to look inwards and introspect. Kashmir needs to evolve a model that prevents stakeholders from triggering Pahalgam like destruction and discourages systems from inviting all. Let there be quality tourism that helps Kashmir to stay at peace with its fragile economy and helps it build a robust economy.

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