Iconic Spirit Week Festival of Jammu and Kashmir
- Major voices in the tourism industry are clamoring for Kashmir as a top tourist destination
- They say greater stability in Kashmir will help UT economically
- More domestic tourists coming to Valley after COVID shutdowns, they say
Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir needs stability and this stability will boost the tourism potential of the Union Territory considered as “a paradise on earth”. This was the message that emerged from a ‘Spirit of Jammu and Kashmir’ panel discussion held as part of the week-long Iconic Week festival held at the Lalit Grand Palace, Srinagar.
The discussion was moderated by Navika Kumar, Managing Editor, Times Network, and Managing Editor, Times Now Navbharat. He was followed by Jyotsna Suri, President and CEO, The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group’; Rohit Khosla, Indian Hotels Company Limited (Taj Group of Hotels); and Vilas Pawar, Choice Hospitality India.
Suri said during the discussion that Kashmir has seen an increase in tourist arrivals over the past few months which is surprising.
“The post-COVID-19 lockdown era has been good for J&K”
“The past two years have been completely devastated by COVID. The tourism industry has been hit hard. For three months in a row, there was not a single guest. What has happened in the past 2 years after the initial lockdown has been a bit off the charts though. Suddenly last year there was an increase in visitors and this (Lalit hotel) was full of people,” she said.
Suri pointed out that the repeal of Section 370 – which granted special status to the former state of Jammu and Kashmir – in August 2019, brought a ray of hope.
“Repealing Section 370 was definitely the start of some change, hopefully there will be the stability we need and people will engage economically,” she said.
Khosla said the post-COVID-19 lockdown era has been good for Jammu and Kashmir. He also spoke about the fragile nature of the tourism industry which is affected by events beyond its control.
“We’ve had a great time over the past two months, following the Covid lockdown era. Our industry is extremely fragile, many things that happen around the industry impact it. This (the industry) is not just a hotel business, it is also about creating jobs, contributing to the economy, indirectly giving livelihoods to local artisans involved in the industry,” said he declared.
“Need for a safe and accessible environment”
Khosla said Kashmir is such a beautiful place, a paradise on earth, that it is imperative for any government, especially the J&K UT government, that “we create a safe and accessible environment.”
According to him, when it comes to accessibility, flight connectivity is excellent. There are around 60 flights a day and 8,000 people to support, which is great, Khosla said.
“There has been an influx of brands at J&K; hotels are opening across UT. We are in the right direction,” he said, hopeful about J&K’s tourism potential.
Pawar, for his part, said that Kashmir is one of the major tourist destinations and there is a huge opportunity for tourism to grow here.
“Due to stability issues in the past, we are still at a very nascent stage of tourism here. The brands are all available here, everyone is looking for a bit more stability before entering,” Pawar said.
“With the removal of Article 370, we have seen great interest in Kashmir developing,” he added.
He said there is an opportunity here and it should benefit UT. “There are investors waiting to invest, this is uncharted territory,” he added.
Pawar also spoke of “little bumps in the road”, apparently referring to the recent spate of targeted civilian killings in the valley by terrorists.
Suri, meanwhile, pointed out that the Lalit Group has always believed in the tourism potential of Kashmir.
“We opened the Palais Lalit at the height of the insurrection. There were days and months when we didn’t have a single guest. But we were convinced that when things calm down and there is stability here, this place will become the number one tourist destination. We never closed the hotel even for a single day, even in the worst times. Because we thought it was a symbol of Kashmir, a symbol of India,” she said.
‘Kashmir – favorite destination for domestic tourists’
Suri said Kashmir was mainly a hub for domestic tourism.
“From the beginning, Kashmir was not a hub for foreign tourists, like Goa. It has been a hub of domestic tourists; we survived because of it. Although we are happy to have foreign tourists here. For Indians, Kashmir is a very, very special place,” she said.
She praised the central government for sending a message that Kashmir is safe for tourism.
“What Kashmir needs is stability. The Center took an enormous interest in the state; over the past two months, there have been several visits by parliamentary delegations. And of course, the current visit of the Minister of the Interior is a great morale booster. The message that comes through is that Kashmir is safe,” she said.
Suri also highlighted the role the film industry has played in popularizing Kashmir as a tourist paradise.
“Kashmir got a huge boost from the film industry. When they found out about the weather here, it was so nice that they used to stay here and shoot for months. with all the units. Almost every other film was shot here,” she recalls.
Khosla said Kashmir’s tourism policy should be formulated taking into account the views of all stakeholders. “A consolidated overall plan should be formulated,” he said.
Suri supported Khosla’s view and said that a strong tourism policy is essential and all stakeholders should be part of it.