March 2008 News

Indian tour operators discouraging tourism in Held Kashmir

13 March 2008
The Daily Times
Iftikhar Gilani

Islamabad: J&K tourism official says tour operators helpless to counter this ‘malicious’ propaganda By Iftikhar Gilani NEW DELHI: Indian tour operators have been marketing Kashmir as a “terrorist destination”, forcing tourists desiring a holiday at Srinagar to visit other Indian resorts. A Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) government tourism official said that despite the Indian Home Ministry’s assertions that the law and order situation in Kashmir had normalised, tour operators in the Indian capital projected the valley as a “violence-hit” region, persuading visitors to visit other places. He accused tour operators of being part of a systematic campaign to ruin Kashmir’s economy. Tourism – one of the pillars of Kashmir’s economy – has suffered badly over the past 20 years due to militancy. Over 500,000 tourists visited Srinagar in 1988; but the numbers dwindled to just few thousand when militancy proliferated in the area. Although 720,000 tourists were recorded to have visited J&K last year, the majority of them were Hindu pilgrims who visited the Amarnath cave shrine. A further 44,345 foreigners also visited the state, but most of them travelled directly to the Ladkah region to visit high altitude lakes and Buddhist pilgrimage sites, as tour operators in Delhi had dissuaded them from visiting the Kashmir Valley. Propaganda: “We don’t have any concrete policy for countering the malicious propaganda of these travel agents,” an official admitted. Fayaz Ahmad Langoo, a Delhi-based Kashmiri tour operator, alleges that these tour operators are working hand-in-glove with the Delhi Police, which always looks for excuses to harass Kashmiris. “After we persuade tourists to visit the Kashmir Valley, tour operators and travel agents appear and project Kashmir as a terrorist-infested region,” he said, adding that foreigners got cold feet on hearing the word “terrorism”. Meanwhile, the J&K government is organising a tourism fair in different Indian cities to counter propaganda unleashed by some vested interests. Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beigh said that he hoped the tourism industry in J&K would receive a big boost in 2008. He said that similar exhibitions would be held across the world to encourage tourists to visit the valley. He said the government was considering holding such an exhibition in Germany in April. “We have scenic beauty, the highest peaks, vast pastures, and varieties of tourist destinations,” said Farooq Ahmed Shah, director of tourism, adding, “These endowed possessions make us different from other tourist destinations.”

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