Kashmir is home to several valleys such as Kashmir, Chenab and Sindh. These valleys of Srinagar, Gulmarg, Pahalgam are pristine and a major attraction for tourists along with the famous Hindu shrines of Vaishno Devi and Amarnath which play a significant role in the state‟s economy. Last year, Kashmir tourism found an unusual ambassador in the form of Honourable PM Narender Modi & Home Minister Amit Shah who propagated that tourists must visit Jammu and Kashmir and witness the scenic Tulip festival along with mesmerizing beauty of Kashmir. Also they would have a first-hand experience of warmth and hospitality of the people of J & K. The Prime Minister and the home Minister both echoed the sentiment.
J & K has tremendous tourism potential and being an employment intensive industry, it provides a very immense scope for employment for the locals as compared to other enterprises. Being a multi segment industry, tourism also provides opportunity for both skilled and non-skilled labour. Moreover, it adds to infra development in one way or the other thus, providing for sustainable growth of the local population and also generate revenue for the state. The state has got its potential tourism internationally & most importantly tap into the tourism market in Southeast Asia. Places like Srinagar, Pahalgam, Verinag enrich visitors with the magnificent historical sculptures, memorials, lakes, holy Shrines, pristine waters and world famous sites. Adventure activities like skiing at Gulmarg, rafting at Sonamarg, paragliging at sanasar, rock climbing at Bhaderwah & trekking at Bani-Bashih, Sonamarg & Sarthal Valley are among some of major attraction.
Kashmir was traditionally the most favourite spot for filming Bollywood movies till militancy erupted three decades ago with the growing insecurities, movie making industry distanced itself from Kashmir thereby increasing the gap between rest of India and Kashmir. The impact could also be seen as the movies theme changed from “Kashmir Ki Kali in 1980‟s to Mission Kashmir in 2000‟s. The militancy impacted tourism in Kashmir resulting in the job opportunities decreasing immensely which in turn impacted the youth, leading to disgruntlement and further it emerged as the biggest roadblock to sustained normalcy in the region.
The turmoil in the Kashmir is also the main reason for the lack of modern amenities and infrastructure development and continues to be a weak link in the chain of overall development of the region. While main roads are well developed however the peripherals are in a state of neglect. Lack of basic amenities are in stark contrast to encouraging tourism. A fragile security situation is no longer an excuse to stall progress in the correct direction. It is imperative for Kashmir to witness a considerable face-lift in case the tourism and business potential is to be fully utilised. The abrogation of Article 370 which came with subsequent restrictions impacted the tourism sector. When everything seems to move towards normalcy, came the COVID-19 pandemic and the tourism activities came to a standstill. It disrupted the routine lives, creating a new normal of lockdowns, social distancing, wearing of mask and curtailed travels.
CCIK reported that 18 months of the pandemic resulted in a major blow to tourism industry amounting to revenue of Rs 18,000 and approx. About 5 lakh jobs were also lost. The hospitality business suffered major strain and distress and found it difficult to keep the business afloat. Paying of rents, bills and salary to staff became impossible. Many had to switch to other businesses just to earn a livelihood. However, there was a domestic improvement in the tourism sector in 2021. The prolonged pandemic situation may have spelt doom for tourism at large but not in Kashmir region any anymore. The Kashmir Valley has emerged as the most sought after destination in 2021 for premium domestic tourists resulting in a major boost in business. Tourist footfall in Kashmir Valley for July – Aug 2021 numbered around 1 lakh according to official figures from J & K tourism. Following the second wave of COVID–19, international tourism took a backseat and Kashmir emerged as the chosen tourist destination. The government‟s decision to increase direct flight from different parts of the country and setting up night landing infra at Srinagar Airport has further yielded the tourist footfall.
J & K Govt left no stone unturned in promoting tourism in the union territory after the pandemic hit tourism seasons. Many road shows were organised in different parts of country and abroad not only to attract tourists but also to provide prospective investors the possibilities of having a dialogue in investment opportunities in the region. J & K tourism department had also org an array of celebrations and festivals along with advertisements in print and visual media which appealed to the tourists all over the country. The Jammu festival, white water rafting championship, Christmas carnival at Gulmarg and Pahalgam, Gulmarg snow festival, Lohri festivals and Mata Vaishno Devi Sammelan went a long way in appealing to the tourists. Govt of J & K is currently promoting 75 new tourist destinations by developing comprehensive facilities in an integrated manner with adequate provisions of recreational activities, along with the other infrastructure to attract tourists. These destinations aim to showcase a profound and comprehensive insight into the cultural & architectural heritage of J & K. The Central and J & K Govt, at the first ever “J & K real estate conference‟ held in Jammu, have decided to throw open local real estate for “second homes & summer homes” to all the citizens in the country. This is a major push to attract “investment & a major step towards development‟ which will further enhance business opportunities in J& K, especially in the tourism sector. Govt officials are also working hard to woo business leaders in UAE into becoming prominent players in promoting tourism, handcraft and improving business opportunities in the Union Territory. Recently a MoU with UAE was also signed to invest $ 100 Million in the Union Territory. This investment will cover three hotels & one commercial cum residential complex in J & K.
This is the time for all genuine stake holders who rate highly of Kashmir in mind to join hands in isolating those who have inimical designs. This is the time to be mature and work towards consolidated gains accrued as a result of diligent hard work and sacrifice. Abrogation of Article 370 is already a step in right direction. Signing of MoU with UAE and more business opportunities will open up new doors for development in the region and go a long way in promoting tourism. J & K demands constructive contribution and not opportunism. Nothing can be gained by reliving or concerting a traumatized past in a manner that overshadows a bright future. Instead, it is time to look ahead and to work for a brighter future of J&K.