April 2000 News

Farooq spearheads campaign to lure tourists to Valley

17 April 2000
Hindustan Times
Arun Joshi

Jammu: With the onset of tourist season round the corner, the marketing of Kashmir as the ultimate destination for travellers seems to be on in right earnest. ''Come and visit my Kashmir. Don''t forget you called it paradise on earth not long ago. We are the same people, same place,'' say tourism officials, urging the prospective visitors to be undeterred by guns. The gun boom, they say, is heard more in media than on the ground. The Government, tourist operators and the locals have jointly launched a campaign to get the tourists back to Kashmir by selling the Valley''s stunning natural beauty. And, notwithstanding the scars of Kargil conflict and militancy, they are confident of success. ''I tell you to come and relax in Kashmir. I have no words to describe how beautiful the place and the weather is,'' said Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah in an appeal to the tourists desirous of escaping the heat in the plains. The appeal made in the presence of Defence Minister George Fernandes here on Saturday aims at seeking his help in getting tourists to Kashmir. Mr Abdullah, who is spearheading the campaign to lure tourists to the Valley this summer, has urged Prime Minister Vajpayee to issue a similar appeal. The campaign is, in effect, an exercise in image-building which was felt imperative after the Kargil episode. Its constant refrain is that Kargil will not happen this year and, in fact, even last year the conflict had not spilled over to the Valley. ''Our objective is to lure tourists to Pahalgam, Srinagar and Gulmarg,'' said Daljit Singh, a tourist operator. The locals associated with tourism trade are keen to have tourists despite the heat of the gun in some parts of the Valley. On the possibility of impact of militancy on tourism, officials say that past experience indicates that during winters towns are the centre of militant action and in summers they retreat to mountains and dense forests and the towns remained unaffected. The public perception is that the militants also face pressure to keep their hands off tourists and tourist operators.This gives hope for a good tourist season in Kashmir. ''Had Kargil not taken place last year, our tourist arrivals would have been well over half a million.


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