J&K government must strengthen the tourism infrastructure so that we emerge as an all-season destination in true sense of the word. In absence of facilities, the vast potential of this sector will remain unexplored.
Kashmir has witnessed a sharp decline in tourist arrivals. Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti has blamed a section of Indian media for misleading people about the situation in the valley. She may be right in her assessment, but the question remains: has the government done anything to address the threat perception created by irresponsible media coverage?
Tourism has been one of the worst-hit sectors in more than two decades of armed conflict in Kashmir. With significant improvement in the situation, some countries have been prompted to revoke the advisory against travelling to Kashmir. When Britain lifted its advisory, the decision was expected to boost foreign tourism and benefit the local economy. The government, however, forgot to do its part, which was to persuade the potential British tourists to visit Kashmir. Their feedback would have been vital and other Western nations may have followed suit.
Tourism is considered as the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy. However, the successive governments have been inconsistent in their efforts to improve the tourism scenario in the valley. Take, for instance, the case of Srinagar which has served as the choicest tourist destination. The authorities have ignored the aesthetic part, which holds key for the promotion of any tourist place. From bad roads to poor sanitation, there is no dearth of factors depriving the city of its aesthetic charm.
Buoyed by huge tourist rush in summer, the government has a tendency to go complacent during winter. Ideally, the government should capitalize on the snowfall in the valley to attract the holidayers. We have been hearing about the government efforts to promote winter tourism, but the tourist influx is not that encouraging. While on one hand, the tourism department conducts road shows and other events in various parts of India and abroad to promote Kashmir as an all-season tourist destination, it fails to ensure proper facilities for the tourists in the valley during winters.
Winter in Kashmir is expected to be harsh for most part of the season, so the government should ideally be ready for any eventuality. Many tourists like to visit Kashmir in winters to enjoy the snowfall, but they are left disappointed due to frequent closure of Srinagar-Jammu Highway and subsequent increase in the airfare. Many tourists are stranded on the highway after the snowfall. The government has failed to maintain all-weather road connectivity of the valley with rest of India during winters.
Besides, the power breakdown witnessed by Kashmir is enough to repel the tourists and dissuade them from visiting the place again. More often snowfall snaps power supply and many tourists go back before their scheduled departure date due to lack of heating arrangements. Many tourists intending to visit the valley cancel their flights for want of facilities in local hotels. Tourists like to remain in touch with their relatives and updated about the happenings, but when the internet service is also hit by the snowfall, how can they enjoy their stay in the valley.
J&K Tourism Department can learn from many countries in this regard. Take, for instance, Canada where winters can get much colder than Kashmir. The country offers plenty of tourism options during its colder months. Similarly, we can learn from the winter sports and other activities organized by many European countries. Tourism Department needs to explore its own options to lure tourists in winter. To begin with, however, we need to strengthen the tourism infrastructure so that Kashmir emerges as an all-season destination in true sense of the word.
Floriculture is an integral part of J&K’s tourism sector, which in turn has emerged as the mainstay of the State’s economy. Department of Floriculture is involved in development and maintenance of gardens and parks in Kashmir valley with the stated aim to boost tourism at various tourist destinations.
Countries like Netherlands and Japan are known the world over for ‘flower tourism’, a concept which is yet to be explored in Kashmir. The long cold winter of Kashmir renders the landscape grey and dull. The spring blossom transforms gardens and parks into stunning locales, attracting tourists by their colorful display and distinctive aroma.
Hype aside, Kashmir still doesn’t have the kind of floral tourism infrastructure needed for boosting tourism. Developing floral tourism destinations need conscious efforts. The J&K government can learn from France’s lavender fields or the Netherland’s Tulips. These countries have been emphasizing on importance of preserving nature.
We can also learn a lesson or two from China, which has been trying to promote its flowers in recent times. The country’s flower tourism is becoming more and more pronounced, according to national news agency Xinhua, with locals and foreign visitors travelling to see the flowers.
The concerned state departments must aim at meeting the international standards as far as the upkeep of Mughal Gardens (Nishat, Shalimar, Cheshmashahi, Pari Mahal, Verinag, Achabal and Jarokabagh), Botanical Garden, Kokernag, Pahalgam, Manasbal, Tulip Garden, Nehru Memorial Botanical Garden, Children Park and various other parks is concerned. Which is when the cast potential of tourism sector can be fully explored.
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