There is an urgent need to revise our tourism policy…
During the two decades of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir tourist trade suffered the most. Once, a favorite destination of high-end tourists including considerable flow of foreign tourists, Kashmir was disowned by one and all. More than the unrest the vicious pessimistic campaign against Kashmir and its people had harmful impact on tourism industry in the state, particularly in Kashmir valley. Certainly, present tourist traffic in Jammu and Kashmir is not only encouraging but booming. However, this boom has many unpleasant strings attached to it that may prove counterproductive in the long run. Kashmir has a long history of tourism and until late seventies of last century only high-end tourists and adventure lovers would contribute considerably to Kashmir tourism but now it is free for all. This unrestricted tourist traffic with very little concern for quality will eventually finish our tourism sector leaving behind a trail of destroyed ecosystem and disfigured environment.
After the big shock in nineties it took years to get the tourism sector back on rails and undoubtedly every stakeholder from Tourism department down to humble Shikara operator contributed in getting the tourism sector out of stigmatic situation of redundancy. With our dedicated efforts most of the advisories issued by different countries during the last two decades stand revoked and now a substantial number of foreign tourists are visiting the valley. During the last several years tourist infrastructure both in private and public sector has grown manifolds and several new destinations have been developed and added to tourist circuit. More than a dozen tourism development authorities and several other high-end tourist destinations like golf courses and adventure tourism facilities will in fact help tourism development in the state. Private tourism sector has also grown significantly over the period of time. Expansion in bedding capacity, air traffic, quality visitor handling and addition of many other recreational and adventure infrastructure in private sector has obviously given a much required thrust to tourist flow.
As mentioned that our tourist trade is presently booming and a record number of tourists are expected to visit Kashmir this year. Most of the hotels and other lodging facilities have advance bookings for the whole working tourist season. It is a fact as well that most of the tourists visiting Kashmir are budget tourists managed by package tour operators. And for an ecologically fragile destination like Kashmir such tourists and their exploding numbers do not auger well. I don’t mean that Kashmir is a restricted area but as far as practice of tourism and tourist trade is concerned Kashmir and places like Ladakh are exclusively meant for high-end tourists who can afford a good, green and healthy tour. Kashmir is a place with limited capacity that can cater to a distinct and specific number of tourists at a particular time within its limitations of fragility and constrained resources and infrastructure. Presently, at this peak tourist season a cursory look at any tourist destination in Kashmir, particularly over exploited hill stations like Gulmarg and Pahalgam provide a dismal image of our tourism scenario. Thousands of tourists on a single day rushing to these stations in hundreds of vehicles have turned our tourist places into overcrowded urban centers without any regard for environment and the delicate ecosystem. And more interestingly every budget tourist visits a particular place once in his life time and with limited ecological attitude his regard for environment and ecosystem is negligible. So imagine fate of Kashmir at the hands of these package tourists. Most of the tourists visiting Kashmir come in their own vehicles carrying almost everything with them. Except availing lodging, that too budget accommodation their contribution to tourist trade is almost zero. Their only contribution apart from lodging is taxing our already limited and diminishing facilities and infrastructure like potable water, civic facilities, roads, electricity and last but not the least the shrinking parking lots.
It is high time to review and revisit our tourism and tourist trade policy particularly in the context of our highly susceptible ecosystem, limited resources and infrastructure. We have to and we should have a paradigm shift from politics oriented populistic tourism to high-end tourism with regulated intake capacity strictly managed by stern legal provisions, otherwise this blissful valley and its surroundings will turn into an international shit pot in pursuit of promoting acquisitive Tourism.