Tourism industry is one of the largest industry in the world and a nation’s economy to a large extent is driven by the tourist trade. It refers to short term movement of people for leisure, social, spiritual or business purposes. It is a wide-ranging industry which includes hotel and hospitality industry, transport industry, entertainment industry and many other allied services.
Kashmir as is rightly called heaven on earth is bestowed with nature’s beauty. Not just natural landscapes, there are innumerable man-made structures as well which have a magnetic effect on those who desire to see enriched sights. Some of the places worth mentioning are Dal Lake, Shankaracharya Temple, Mughal Gardens, Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Daksum, Sinthan top and many more.
Tourism has also been advocated to have tremendous peace potential. That is when people travel to new places, it helps them understand the local people, cultures and values. That experience is capable of increasing mutual understanding among people, it enables them to juxtapose the myth and reality and develop mutual trust.
Kashmir is a place of natural beauty which is rich in the cultural diversity of the people, as well as diversity of flora and fauna in the forest areas, and domesticated species outside the forest. It is a place of huge market in India as well as in abroad. State has number of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and wetlands providing an opportunity to the state to promote eco-tourism. These natural assets make Jammu and Kashmir State as one of the best destinations for the eco-tourism in the world. The centre government has announced a number of promotional activities and a package of incentives to promote tourism and industrial development in the state.
The travel and tourism industry across the world suffers from poor infrastructure and Kashmir has no different scenario. The infrastructure includes overall facilities provided by the stakeholders. Kashmir faces range of infrastructural issues from just having one airport (which is not technically sophisticated) to no rail connectivity with other states. The road accessibility to most of 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 find it difficult to provide the amenities at particular destination because of poor accessibility. Kashmir ranks very low in number of branded hotels in fact there is no star categorised hotel which is again challenging issue as most of high-end tourist won’t prefer to visit. The most of hotels and houseboats don’t have STP’s (sewage treatment plants) and even the quality of services is not meeting the standards. Travel and tourism sector in Kashmir has been the victim of political disturbances since early 90’s. Tourism of Kashmir faced a failure during 1990’s, after Kargil war, due to uprisings in 2008 & 2010, after that devastating floods of 2014 & now due to unrest of 2016. The political disturbances have put a huge setback for tourism in Kashmir. Tourism is an activity that needs peace and without peace the tourism is impossible. This is the one of key issues that tourism sector of Kashmir is facing.
The state of JK has been the 1st Indian state to introduce concept of tourist policing but still the threat of terrorism and political outrage has been adding to the negativity of Kashmir. Political stability is of major importance to any investment but holds more significance to tourism because of what is being sold: serenity, fun, leisure, comfort and these can be successfully marketed only under peace and stable situation. Tourist arrivals act as a barometer of the safe and secure image of a state. Not only terrorism or political outrage but thefts, other crimes and safety related issues are also matter of concern in marketing of the tourist destination. No matter how high-end tourist may come but for some basic services like guides, escort, pony etc they have to rely on the local intimates of destination only and due to lack of communication skills services get affected. As most of local workers are not familiar with non-local languages and their services doesn’t meet the expected standard of the tourist that adds to the challenges faced by tourism industry. The national and local media plays a crucial role in tourism boosting and in Kashmir media is reasonably biased when it comes to updating the ground reality of overall situation in Kashmir. As media being on negative lines, it has resulted in 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 tourism industry to overcome.
Due to tourism in Kashmir, there is a great hike in economy and employment. People are dampening of anti-national activities. In J&K handicrafts have remained the backbone since the time immemorial. Handicrafts played a crucial role in the preservation of traditional art, culture, heritage and skills. The crafts like embroidery, carpets, wood carving, costumes, shawls, jewellery, local grass baskets etc. have a significant impact of J&K across the globe.
Kashmir is in high competition from other northern states having similar natural beauty. With an increase of mass tourism, there is also degradation of environment. It is significant to note that various past crises have troubled global tourism, but the rapidly evolving global COVID-19 pandemic has confronted this sensitive industry with unprecedented circumstances.
Tourism can be a significant contributor in foreign exchange, employment and income. Kashmir’s tourist industry is punching below its potential due to the above-mentioned weaknesses. Public private partnership model, Visa on Arrival, Tax holidays, reduced bureaucratic red tape, promoting FDI are some areas for the government to work upon. With the scrapping of Article 370 and other favourable announcements, the policymakers have made Kashmir more friendly for investments and growth, one can expect this unexplored domain to pay rich dividends to the local populace and improve their happiness index.