Kashmir Tourism On Revival Path
21 September 2003
New Delhi: There appears to be a silver lining in the dark clouds perennially hanging over the Kashmir Valley. After years of ailment, the Kashmir tourism industry, which has traditionally been the backbone of the state's economy, is showing signs of recovery. A 12-member delegation led by the Kashmir tourism minister, Mr Ghulam Ahmed Mir, is now attending the World Tourism Conference in Kuala Lumpur in a bid to attract foreign tourists to the state. The delegation is slated to attend another international tourism conference in Singapore early next month. Apart from projecting the huge tourism potential of Kashmir, the delegation will try to convince the international audience about the 'improvements' in the security situation in the state. Mr Mir reportedly said the delegation will highlight the inflow of about 2.5 lakh tourists to Kashmir this year - the highest such figure since militancy erupted in the state in 1989. Thousands of domestic and foreign tourists poured into Kashmir this summer. Houseboats on Srinagar's Dal lake were packed with tourist. The number of tourists visiting the state per year had gone down from 6-7 lakhs in the pre-militancy days to a few thousands in the following years. This year's tourist influx has, however, bucked the trend. Another positive news for the troubled Valley came in the form of the Union tourism and culture ministry's 15 September announcement of a special package for creation of 35,000 employment opportunities through revival and rejuvenation of tourism in Kashmir. This package, the minister, Mr Jagmohan, said, was worked out in light of the the Prime Minister's announcement during his April visit to Srinagar that at least one lakh employment opportunities would be created in the state within a couple of years. The package offers various sops, including soft loans and capital grants, to a large number of people - houseboat owners, owners of hotels and guest houses, and ponywalas - linked with the tourism industry in Kashmir. The ministry has also sanctioned financial aid to the state for the integrated development of various historical monuments and tourist sites, said Mr Jagmohan. It has also recommended subsidised airfare to J&K. Mr Jagmohan is scheduled to head a tourism delegation to West Asia next month, where he is set to package and market Kashmir as a 'hot tourism destination'. The official quarters believe that recent visits by the country's top leaders and a slew of Union ministers and chief ministers to the Valley will lend a 'feel-good factor' to promotion of Kashmir tourism. The Centre's tourism package for Kashmir will boost the state government's efforts to attract more visitors to the Valley, said Mr Mir. His ministry will try to convince international tourists that visitors have not been 'targeted' in Kashmir and that its people 'genuinely want peace and economic prosperity'.