Tourism in Kashmir is going through some of its roughest times. In a significant development, eighteen associations of the tourism industry of Kashmir came up with a joint statement on March 4, expressing concern over the negative environment being developed in rest of the country towards tourism to Kashmir, and called for urgent actions at the governmental level to address the sorry state of affairs.

Even as J&K’s government expenditure on tourism continues to be abysmal the capital expenditure on the tourism sector in the state was Rs 155 crore in 2016-17, constituting a mere 0.12 percent of the state’s GSDP – the sector contributed 8.63 percent to the state’s GSDP in the same year. This contribution has grown to 9.17 percent in 2017-18. Although in percentage terms this contribution looks modest, income generation in the tourism sector has a significant trickle-down effect in J&K – creating secondary jobs, invigorating demand and creating immense possibilities for social and economic exchanges at multiple levels.

This week, Ziraat Times engaged with the industry leaders and sought to understand the nature of the challenges in the industry and the
nature of the immediate and medium-term measures required to be taken at the governmental and industry levels in getting tourism back on rails in Kashmir.

Khursheed Ganai
Khurshid Ahmad Ganai
Advisor to Governor,
Government of J&K

Tourism in Kashmir is facing challenges from the most unexpected quarters, namely the media. Certain  TV channels are, day in and day out discussing and exaggerating the Kashmir situation in the most negative way. That is achieving nothing except driving tourists away from Kashmir. So, we need to do better than them. That is a hard task but if we treat our tourists well, they will be our best ambassadors. It’s time all the people in Kashmir decide to defeat the canard and disinformation coming out of the TV Channels. And, most importantly, protect our tourist resorts and natural beauty of the valley. Keep our surroundings clean and preserve our resources. That is the way forward to augment our tourist inflow. In the past, we in Kashmir have been rather cagey and lukewarm to the idea of hosting tourists in our own homes and houses. Something like making our own homes guest houses for tourists. I reckon we need to think through this idea of a guest system for tourists, something like bed and breakfast. We could utilize the surplus accommodation in our homes for tourists, particularly the family and the elderly tourists. If we are able to go work out a  scheme sensibly, it could help to augment many family incomes while simultaneously spreading tourism to newer areas in Kashmir.

Tourism Nisar
Nisar Ahmad Wani
Director Department of Tourism Kashmir

Negative media publicity, high airfares, closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway off and on, non – availability of recreational means in mornings and evenings, high rates charged by hoteliers etc are important challenges coupled with the law and order situation.

Lately, we sponsored 9 domestic road shows and 3 international shows with tourism stakeholders. We are also issuing half-page advertisements in all leading national papers and 1-month promotional advertisement at T3 Airport Delhi and Mumbai as well.

Mushtaq Chaya
Chairman, PHDCCI
J&K Hotelier’s Club

Kashmir is back to normal. The Indo-Pak relations have also added to the current panic. Private players in the tourism industry along with the Department of Tourism have been doing a lot lately. In whole winters, they were out for road shows across the country and some foreign countries too. But the recent attack wasted all those efforts. We have to
start again now. Also, we need to send a message to those tour operators in Maharashtra, Ahmedabad who are spreading hate against Kashmir over social media. They have been threatening the tour operators unnecessarily who send their tourists to Kashmir and label them as an enemy to the country. The government needs to take a stand to assure people outside the state and should go hand in hand with the private tourism players. Kashmir has always proved its hospitability and it is in our blood. We will rise again and face every situation boldly.

Manzoor Wangnoo
Manzoor Wangnoo
Chairman, Nigeen Tourist Traders Association (NTTA)

Kashmir has endless tourism opportunities and high potential in tourism and has the ability to become a niche tourist destination because of its topographic, geographic, cultural and religious features and attractions. But still with so much potential the valley is facing issues vis-a-vis:

a) The political disturbances:
Tourism needs peace and without peace, tourism is impossible. The key issue Kashmir tourism is facing is the political disturbance and it has posed a huge setback to the industry.
b) Media Prejudice:
The media plays a crucial role in tourism-boosting and when it comes to Kashmir, media is biased and does not project the ground reality of the overall situation in Kashmir. As media being on negative lines, it has resulted in a downfall in arrivals of tourist in recent past. Media reports about Kashmir have added to negative marketing of the region which has become a big challenge for the tourism industry to overcome.
c) Lack of Infrastructure:
Kashmir faces a range of infrastructural issues. The recent closure of the Srinagar-Jammu national highway is an example. Likewise, the road access to most of the tourist spots of the valley remains affected during winters,
which definitely leaves an image of disgust on visitor’s mind. Not only tourist arrival is hampered, but tourism stakeholders also find it difficult to provide the amenities at a particular destination because of poor accessibility. The stakeholders of tourism in Kashmir need to do something concrete and result-oriented so that tourism, which frequently fails due to the stigma of ‘terror’ attached to it.
Medical tourism can be a major sector in Kashmir. The primary reason is that it can attract people for cost-effectiveness and treatment from accredited facilities at par with developed countries at a much lower cost. This proposal I had put forward with Late Mufti Sayed sahab when he was the CM. Consequently, a neighboring State has thrived at the cost of Kashmir. A nexus between them and rumor mill mongers can’t be overruled. Terrible incidents occur all over the world including India, yet tourism survives & flourishes. Frightening incidents like Naxalites blow-up trains, foreign tourists become victims of rape in proud cities of New Delhi, Maharashtra, Rajasthan etc. yet these incidents are not allowed to derail tourism. Kashmir has both internal and external challenges to its tourism sector.It is high time for the government to come up with a strategy to curb the negative media portrayal of Kashmir and set up a strong delivery system to improve the influx of tourists. Kashmir has always been the place
with zero crime reports against tourism and it has been reported by Government of India itself.

sheikh ashiq
Sheikh Ashiq
President, KCC&I

The present situation in itself is a challenge for the tourism industry. The way national media exploits the current situation with false propaganda adds to our challenges. Few tour operators who call themselves pro-nationalist have waged a war against (State) Jammu & Kashmir.

This bias is supposed to be countered by the state government. KCC&I have always been hand in hand with the Department of Tourism and in future also we will be with them with full support. Department of Tourism, Kashmir should take legal action against such agents who are spreading these hate mongering content over social media or otherwise.
We are hopeful that with the positive mind we will rise once again and will come out of this situation. Tourism Department needs to take all the stakeholders into consideration and ask their opinion while taking any decision. We have to work together to get back to that cordial atmosphere with the tour operators across the country.

Rauf Tramboo
Rauf Tramboo

The way things have been politicized in the recent month after the Pulwama attack has sent a negative message. The worst-hit industry after the recent attack is tourism. Tourism is a bridge and it connects people, and they become the representatives of the place.
Promotional campaigns are to be restarted as the season this year was already preponed and now we are witnessing continuous cancellations. Our govt. or administration is supposed to talk and address this issue of negative publicity over national media channels as they send a negative message. Some states have issued advisories to boycott the place. It needs direct intervention of the government. If it is not addressed on time, over the period people who are associated with tour operations may have to switch their jobs. Since we had good snow this year, winter sports was supposed to have a good season. We had confirmed bookings for snow skiing till April and this uncertainty and negative publicity has led to last moment cancellations.

Manzoor Pakhtoon
Chairman, Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Alliance

Tourism in Kashmir has been challenging always. The recent Indo-Pak tension is a factor too. The recent closure of the Srinagar airport has badly affected international tourism. There are advisories till 15th March for international tourism. National media has added to the situation. The way they show the situation nowhere exists on the ground. There are some biased tour operators who under some political influence or whatever may be the reason are putting our industry at risk. They are even threatening the agents who are sending their tourists to Kashmir. The ground level situation has always been different than what they show from their newsrooms. In our recent Road Shows at Malaysia and Bangkok, Department of Tourism wasn’t enough serious. The people who were supposed to attend the event weren’t there. Department of Tourism needs to understand the basic functioning of how things work on the ground level. Social media has proved to be an influential medium and we at our own level are trying our best to make its use for tourism in Kashmir. Positive stories that are in Kashmir need to be highlighted on such platforms and it will definitely give a boost to our tourism.

Asif Burza
Pahalgam Hotel and Restaurant
Owners Association (PHROA)

The biggest challenge as on date is the perception of today’s Kashmir that has to be changed. That perception makes it feel as if Kashmir is a war zone and people don’t live a normal life here. Tourism Industry has always been the worst hit. Though we are slowly picking up, we have limited government support. Associations across the valley have made their own contacts with the tour operators or business associates outside the valley. Anything that happens in Kashmir is always blown out of proportion and, in return, it hits our tourism. The government should initiate familiarization tour of the tour operators, business associates, bloggers, journalists, travel agents from across the country and let them visit all the places of Kashmir so that once they return to their places, a positive message is sent by them and thereby the scope of more people visiting Kashmir emerges. They should feel that this place is as normal for tourists as any other places in the entire country. Tourism Department needs to be aggressive when it comes to the promotion and campaigns. More visibility across social media will also be required. Positive stories with reference to tourists travelling to the valley needs to be highlighted.

Adv Abdul Majeed
Adv. Abdul Majeed
Senior Vice President
Kashmir Hotel and
Restaurant Association

Since 2016, there has been a tremendous decline in tourism in Kashmir.
Even in such a situation, there’s no harm to tourists. Tourism is our survival. People of Kashmir are directly or indirectly associated with tourism. We all know how national media has presented Kashmir after the recent Lethpora, Pulwama attack. Even though our people from Kashmir, who were in different parts of the country, were harassed at various places, we still welcomed the stranded tourists to our hotels and provided them free accommodation and food etc. National media never tried to focus on that side of the story. National media is the biggest challenge that doesn’t allow tourism to revive in Kashmir. In 2003-2004 during Vajpayee’s reign, Kashmir witnessed a huge arrival of tourists from the country and outside. But now the bad publicity has taken over. Department of Tourism has always been promoting Kashmir and we get a good response to those promotional activities. Post Pulwama attack, tour operators from across the country are being threatened if they send people to Kashmir. Tourism department needs to restart the promotional activities.

Akram Khan Siah
Mohammad Akram Siah
Chairman, Tourist Trade Interest Guild (TTIG)

With the sudden closure of airlines after the Pulwama attack, it created a panic situation across the country and it affected our international tourism as well. Almost for the whole month of March, bookings have been canceled. Malaysia has issued an advisory saying “Think before you go to Kashmir”. This year we were expecting three times better business from Thailand than last year. We will be working again with the promotional campaigns across the country to ensure that Kashmir is safe for travel. Tourism Department has been sleeping while all this negative publicity dominated our businesses and they are yet to take any step. Had any government official made any announcement or press conference,
we might have saved the business. Industry players have always been doing aggressive marketing and the Department of Tourism needs to come at the front and work for hand in hand with us.

Mukhtar Ahmad (Jaan Sahib)

The biggest challenge that Kashmir has always been facing is negative national media. After the episode of 14th February, national media hasn’t left any stone unturned to derail Kashmir tourism. The threat that they disseminate through their channels is that something bad is going to happen at any point in time. However, the situation on the ground is totally different. Things are back to normal now after that attack. Usually, tourists plan their activities in February ending or March beginning. Whatever bookings we had, 99% of them have been canceled already. Even international tourism is also on hold till 15-20 March. They have also made some advisories under which they will watch the situation till 15th March and then only they will decide whether their tourists should come to India. If we talk about domestic tourism, there is a 100% loss. Cancellations are more from domestic tourism only. For the last 3 months, we have been doing road shows and we had a good response, across the country as well as some foreign countries too. But now that it is all damaged, we need to pull our socks again and make sure that our industry blooms again.

Nasir shah
Nasir Shah
Chairman, J&K Pilgrim and Leisure Tour Operators Forum (PILTOF)

Currently, the Tourism industry in Kashmir looks dull. Before the
current government in power at the center, the incidents like harassment of Kashmiris in different states, radicalization or attack on business groups etc., never happened. It all seems a politicized situation and with the result, tourism in Kashmir suffers. It is quite unfortunate that certain section of tour operators have labeled us as traitors and have stopped to send or make packages for Kashmir. The election is on cards, and people who were planning earlier to visit Kashmir want to plan after elections. Tourism in Kashmir is definitely going to be better as we have on our own level started working on it. We will be visiting the places across the country again and meet tour operators to assure them that the place is safe.

Showkat Choudhery
President, JKHARA

Kashmir is a conflict zone and the situation has been the same over the years. But whenever any such incident happens, the way it is highlighted by national media creates panic across the country. Our Srinagar-Jammu national highway also adds to the challenges. Many tourists get stuck in Jammu due to unpredictable road condition. In that case, we have already suggested the government provide special train and flight services at the economical rates/ actual rates from Jammu to Srinagar and vice versa. We are still following the traditional way of doing road shows, instead, we can make new strategies and focus on our pilgrimage tourism. Kashmir is full of such opportunities, and we won’t have to even go to the agents then. We can target and strengthen our education sector in such a way that students from other parts of the country will come here. There is a lot that can be done in the long term. We need to make optimum use of social media as well. To revive the tourism interest in Kashmir, a major role can be played by the Department of Tourism. Each stakeholder is doing every possible effort in its own capacity but the department needs to go along to make things work.

Ashfaq Sidiq Dug
Ashfaq Dug

The first and foremost thing is that tourism has to be de-linked from the conflict. The current negative onslaught needs to be countered back. The government should hire a professional PR agency who will take care of that negative propaganda. Kashmir has been the safest place so far for tourists with zero crime rate. We have such positive stories of solo travelers as well as the ones who travel in groups. Kashmir doesn’t need to revive its tourism, we have a brand name but the recent attack has created negative hysteria. It has been more than 20 days and our Government is yet to take any step.
Time is of the essence and we are losing it. In our own capacity, private players are doing whatever they can, but we have certain limitations. Where our limitations start, the Government takes a head-on and play the driver’s role.

Hameed Wangnoo
Abdul Hamid Wangnoo
Chairman, Houseboat Owners Association
President, Domestic Tour Operators Asociation of Kashmir

Out of 95% of the total tourism in Kashmir is domestic tourism. Out of total bookings we had this year, 75% are already canceled. Such is the situation. We did winter road shows in Bangalore, Hyderabad and we had the local press with us. Local press has always been a great support. National media is doing negative publicity about the situation. But the show has to go on. We have to start promotional activities again and all stakeholders along with the Tourism Department have to work together to rebuild that trust among the tour operators across the country.

This season, Houseboat Owner’s Association have kept 50% discount for domestic tourists and we are hopeful that things will get better soon.

Nazir Mir
Nazir Mir
Chief Patron, Association of Kashmir Tour Operators

The first and foremost thing that is challenging tourism in Kashmir is the boycott call from certain tour operators in some parts of the country. If Government of India is serious about reviving the tourism in Kashmir, they should be the front face for every activity right from the center level and then state level too. There should be a proper revival campaign for Kashmir and the Government needs to participate actively in it. We have a challenge of our Jammu Highway too.

Our tourists, who are supposed to reach Kashmir on a certain date, happen to get stranded in Jammu due to the bad situation of Jammu highway.

Zahoor Qari
Zahoor Qari
Chairman, TAAI JK Chapter

Talking about the challenges, political stability and the negative impact of national media tops the list. There should be a proper counter for the national media propaganda as it is directly affecting our tourism industry. There needs to be proper utilization of platforms like social media, which will result in spreading the message of peace and harmony. States like Gujarat and Assam have been hiring Bollywood actors for their promotion, we can also opt for such activities. Whatever roadshows we did this year, the recent attack just wasted it all. Promotional campaigns are to be started again. There needs to be proper capping for air ticketing as well. Hoteliers of our valley have proved their compassion when they opened the doors for the stranded tourists. Such positive reflections are also to be highlighted to general masses of the country.

Wahid Mailk
Wahid Malik

The non-disclosure of election dates has added to the uncertainty in the minds of the people who were earlier planning to visit Kashmir in due course of time. Once the dates will be disclosed, some people will certainly make their mind. Another factor that is adding to the hindrance to people while planning their trips to Kashmir is the uncertainty around Article 35-A We have been doing promotional campaigns earlier also and we need to get back to that. In our recent meeting, we have already planned to give a good discount to the tourists visiting Kashmir. Some of the tour operators in Maharashtra have stopped to send people/tourists to Kashmir and we want the government to intervene in it. We are also visiting these places ourselves to assure the people that the state is and has always been safe for tourists. The government should also rope in with popular social media handles and spread a message of positivity and try to curb the negative publicity.

Mir Anwar
Mir Anwar
President, Travel Agents Society of Kashmir (TASK)

Tourism graph right now has touched zero and the reason behind this is a negative perception within the country. Due to this the tourism has taken the back foot. It has been more than 20 days and not a single step has been taken on the part of the government. We need to overcome the current situation and will have to send a message of positivity to ensure that Kashmir is safe to travel for tourists.
We should start organizing press conferences across the country to safeguard the future/potential scope of tourism. It is the government who has to take the front face. Industry players have been and are still doing whatever is possible in their capacity.