Recently a couple of conferences have been held both at Srinagar and Jammu to discuss ways and means of promoting tourist inflow into J & K. However, the problem is not limited in devising strategy for promotion only. It needs a bigger revamp. Tourism in the State of Jammu & Kashmir is an important economic activity. It comes after agriculture and handicrafts in its impact on the economy. Being a service oriented industry it is more relevant because of the large number of educated unemployed in the State. Given the potential in all the three regions and peaceful conditions, it could become the main economic activity. Due to the uncertain conditions during last couple of decades, this activity has seen many ups and downs. It has seen the peak of over seven hundred thousand in 1989 to almost 4,000 in 1991 in the Kashmir valley. Jammu has seen a phenomenal growth in the Vaishnovdevi pilgrimage which is now crossing 7 million. Similarly, Ladakh has seen all time high figures of 70,000 or more in 2008. Over the years the tourism sector has received rather too much attention but unfortunately this has not been done on planned basis. Mostly ad hoc measures have been taken depending upon the personal understanding and initiatives of the concerned political authorities looking after this sector. So far the State has neither a specific Tourism Policy nor a long term Perspective Plan. In order to put this activity on modern scientific lines as pursued in different tourist areas of the world, it is necessary to revamp the entire set up and prepare a proper plan for Tourism development in various parts of the state. Some of the issues which need urgent attention are outlined in the following paragraphs.
Depoliticizing Tourism: During last six years or so the activity connected with tourism seems to have been highly politicized which has resulted in a number of set backs that could have been easily avoided. Tourism is a normal economic activity like any other sector and is also considered an export industry where a country earns foreign exchange by simply exporting goodwill and souvenirs. During late nineties the revival of the activity took place without any fanfare and figures of about two hundred thousand tourists were reached in 1999. However, after 2002, the tourism was very wrongly used by the state politicians as a barometer of political normalcy thereby attracting adverse reaction from the separatist elements. A number of targeted attacks took place on tourists. Unfortunately both the politicians and some bureaucrats projected the increase in tourism figures as return of normalcy. This would not have created any problems had this fact been publicised outside the state where it was required to be done to attract more visitors. However, this was projected on electronic and print media more within the state than outside. The reason for this was the persons promoting it wanted to be appreciated within the ruling circles and wanted to take credit for it. During the peak of militancy, the tourism activities were not publicised at all within the state but tourism officials and members of the travel trade attended every travel mart all over India to promote tourism. Unfortunately the coalition government disregarded this advice of promoting tourism in potential market areas instead of boasting it within the state with disastrous results. In order to increase tourism inflow it is essential to promote Kashmir outside and not within the state.
Secondly, during the planning stage, political considerations have been given more weight than the norms of physical planning and area development as envisaged for viable tourism development. Every place cannot be converted into a tourist destination. There are certain basic criteria which need to be fulfilled before any area can be taken up for tourism development. In our case over two dozen Tourism Development Authorities have been constituted more on political considerations than on the basis of relevant tourism potential. Here it may be pointed out that for really viable tourism activity; the private sector has to be fully involved. The state must limit itself to overall planning and setting up of basic infrastructure. It has to extend incentives to private sector to motivate it for coming in a big way for developing various facilities and finally it has to regulate these activities as per global norms. The state is not discharging this role at present and there is urgent need to revise its role in keeping with similar activities in different tourist areas of the world.
Tourism Planning: As already mentioned tourism development of any area is subject to certain basic criteria. These are potential, accessibility, and infrastructure. Potential can be both natural and man made. Development of any potential area can be taken up only if it is easily accessible. Again any potential area which is easily accessible can only be developed into a tourist destination if it has the basic infrastructure like roads, water-supply, power, communication facilities readily available. While investing available resources in developing a tourist area one has also to consider its viability in comparison to similar areas in the neighbourhood. Prioritisation of potential tourist areas for development is an essential part of the development process. Certain areas can be immediately developed and other areas can be kept for phased development in future after the tourist arrivals appreciably increase and diversion is required to ensure sustainable development. Environment of a place is sometimes the main tourist attraction. However, it is said that tourism and environment can be contradictory to each other. Tourism is sometimes held responsible for destroying the ecology and environment of an area. Thus, one has to strike a balance between tourism development and environment preservation. This is where Sustainable Tourism comes in. Moreover, any tourism development has to be on integrated basis. It has been observed that in mountain areas most of the potential areas are surrounded by remote villages. Thus any development there must be integrated with the development of the local population. Otherwise there is a risk of economic imbalance by creating highly modern tourist resorts surrounded by undeveloped and backward local population areas. To avoid this possibility local population has to be involved in tourism development by encouraging them to go for setting up of various facilities. In Ladakh the concept of paying guest houses has taken off well and this scheme has been adopted by UNESCO under the name of “Home Stays” in many other areas. It is essential to set up a plan monitoring cell in the Tourism Department to physically monitor various plans and the implementation on the ground. At the moment everything depends upon written reports sent to department by various agencies. There is hardly any monitoring on ground.
A very important requirement for planning of new resorts apart from selection and prioritisation of potential areas is their connectivity to enable setting up of tourism circuits. We have been developing most of the resorts with Srinagar as the base. Keeping in view our potential all round the valley, the most practical approach should have been to develop a peripheral circuit starting from Qazigund and going around the valley along the foot of the mountains. There is already a basic road going round the valley which may have to be upgraded to highway specifications. Taking up of the development of this peripheral circuit would throw open almost a dozen resorts for summer, at least half of which have the potential of becoming year round destinations because of these being in the good snowline during winter. This plan which was mooted quite sometime back but not pursued needs to be revived. Initially a feasibility study can be carried out through some local planners.
Tourism Organisation: Any tourism development and its promotion require a professional organisation. No doubt Kashmir has had probably the first tourism organisation even before 1947 yet things have moved far ahead. A visitor’s bureau had been established in Kashmir during Maharaja’s time to look after the foreign tourists mostly from the British Army during their visit to Kashmir valley. Subsequently after Independence the bureau was converted into a full fledged Tourism Directorate with it’s headquarter in Tourist Centre in Srinagar. This unique Centre, only of its kind anywhere in the country, was set up by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad in mid fifties. Over a period of time, the persons working in the tourism organisation had become real professionals. However, with the start of Kashmir Administrative General Services, this service too was merged with other services. Normally, up to certain level the service should have been kept as a technical service. The posts up to Joint Director should have been declared as technical posts by appointing tourism professionals. This was the pattern before merging. Only the Director and the Deputy Director (Administration) were from the General Administrative Service (I.A.S. or K.A.S.). Most of the other officers were tourism professionals. At present most of the officers who had served the department for more than 30 years or so have either retired or been transferred to other departments. These days tourism jobs such as marketing, planning, adventure tourism, and regulation of trade are highly specialised professional jobs. At present these are being looked after by persons having absolutely no knowledge or experience in tourism. There are many other shortcomings in the overall organisation especially regarding co-ordination among various units. This entails an overhaul of the entire organisation.
Tourism Promotion: Proper marketing is the very essence of promoting any tourist destination. Many countries spend huge amounts on tourism marketing. It involves creating a brand and then reinforcing it with continuous projection through media. There are many other tools such as FAM Tours, Travel Marts, and so on. The first requirement is to identify the potential markets and then a strategy has to be designed to tap the particular markets. Malaysia has a budget of US $ 80 million for marketing. Even within the country, states like Kerala and Rajasthan exceed Rs.60 crores or so. A state like Jharkhand has a higher marketing budget than the most touristic state of the country J & K. Another important aspect is the availability of a professional agency with top class creative personnel and sufficient resources. In the past the Department had engaged the best agency in the country for tourism promotion. Apart from this there is need to activate state tourism offices in different metros. These offices were primarily set up as promotional offices but have become just like post offices and are undertaking no promotional activity. These have to be made fully functional by undertaking extensive promotion in their jurisdiction. These must be manned by dedicated and professional staff. Then they have to be provided a blue print for undertaking continuous promotion for which sufficient funds must be made available to them. Another problem hurting tourism to the state are the adverse travel advisories issued by various foreign offices. For modification of these, the state tourism officers have to be in regular touch with the consular offices of these countries. All the advisories are based on the feed back from consular offices. These officers can be invited to various tourist destinations in the state to get a first hand feel of the situation. This can make an impact on the feed back to their respective countries. Another measure to neutralise the adverse travel advisories is to organise and widely publicise through foreign media events of national and international standing. These would include Golf tournaments, Polo Matches, Rafting Challenges, Car Rallies, and important conferences and seminars. A number of such events can even be telecast live. To make best use of these activities, it may be worthwhile to chalk out a year long plan for tourism promotion.
Motivating Private Sector: Tourism can be a useful economic activity only if private sector participation is ensured. Usually for all new activities especially opening of new destinations, the private sector is reluctant in the beginning. Same is the case in uncertain situations. After having suffered repeated set backs, the private players hesitate in making fresh investments. In most of the developed countries, the state has a very limited role in tourism development mostly pertaining to regulation of the trade. The entire infrastructure is set up and operated by the private sector. In our case, even though we may have to initiate setting up of infrastructure in new areas, the effort should be to motivate the private sector to ultimately take over. In already developed and fully functional resorts, the field should be totally left open to private players only. It may also be worthwhile to examine the possibility of extending some sort of counter guarantee or insurance for private sector for all investments in tourism industry. Here, it may be mentioned that almost a decade back, the Tourism sector was given the status of an industry but all the relevant incentives available to other industries were not extended in full to this sector. This issue needs to be examined afresh so that there is no discrimination between tourism and other industries. There has been a demand for constituting a Tourist Board or Authority on the pattern of the British National Tourist Board and the British Tourist Authority. Such body to be effective would have to be a statutory authority which only the state legislature can create. The suggestion deserves examination in the light of the British set up through some expert agency dealing in the field.
World Class Infrastructure: There has been a long pending demand for setting up of world class infrastructure especially in the accommodation sector. Every body who speaks about going to Kashmir in foreign marts wants to know about 5-star hotels in Srinagar. It is true that almost all major capitals boast of the properties of various multi-national hotel chains. Such high category hotels are not needed in mountain resorts like Pahalgam, Gulmarg or Sonamarg. In these places it is better to have mountain lodges and at the most 2 to 3 star hotels. In most of the resorts in Alps, the maximum rating for a hotel is 4-star. There are no 5-star hotels in the high altitude resorts anywhere in Europe. With the Srinagar Airport getting upgraded to an international airport, there is a need to have some world class 5-star properties here in the capital city. This is essential to attract up market tourists used to such high profile living. Apart from accommodation, there is also need to up grade our tourist transport services. Sometime back the government had taken initiative for up grading the infrastructure but the approach to the subject was totally ad hoc which resulted in a backlash. There is no need to auction huge plots of land to outsiders for setting up of infrastructure. Most of the international hotel chains do not construct their own properties. In most cases they give their name on franchise basis and undertake management and marketing of properties. The same approach of joint ventures needs to be adopted in case of Kashmir. There are some examples of such ventures like the Grand Intercontinental in Srinagar, ITC Fortune Inn in Jammu, and the Carlson Country Inn in Katra. It should not be difficult for the local entrepreneurs to invite chains like the Le Meridian, the Holiday Inn, Sheraton, and so on for setting up some 5-star hotels in Srinagar. The government must motivate local hoteliers to go in for joint ventures with similar chains and these projects should be given incentives and concessions by the government in terms of tax rebate etc. The subject can be further expanded by involving consultants specialising in this field.
Human Resource Development: An important sphere of activity in the tourism sector is the human resource development. No doubt Kashmiris are famous from the earliest times for being very good hosts, yet the modern tourism set up needs highly trained manpower to handle various activities. Every person involved in this trade these days needs some training to handle his job. Hotels have special software developed for managing various services efficiently. In fact, there are now specialised courses for most of the staff coming into direct contact with the tourists. These are based on psychoanalysis. One of the courses is called TACT (Transactional Analysis for Customer Treatment). Many international airlines use these. In our case, most of the hotels, restaurants, and guest houses do not have fully trained staff like waiters, front office managers etc. It is possible to organise short term courses for most of the in service staff. This responsibility can be easily taken over by the Institute of Hotel Management in Srinagar which has already shifted to a sprawling new campus in Rajbagh. They have in fact increased their intake with the inauguration of the new campus. Normally they undertake long term diploma courses. However, it should not be difficult for them to undertake this short term training in tourist facilitation. The training can be funded by the Tourism Department as an incentive to the private sector who can be asked to give preference to the trained staff. Apart from the private sector, the tourism officials themselves need to be imparted some training as well as familiarisation with the destinations they are supposed to be marketing. In the past, the department had conducted some study tours of the officers and officials to various tourist destinations in J & K including Ladakh. This is more important for the staff posted in the outside state offices. Unless they are themselves familiar with various tourist attractions of the state how can one expect them to market these? Some familiarisation tours had also been conducted for the staff of Government of India Tourist Offices in foreign countries. This exercise can be repeated in collaboration with the Union Ministry of Tourism. It needs to be emphasised that the Human Resource Development is a continuous process which has to be kept going for planned development of tourism.
Regulation of Travel Trade: An important role for the state in the tourism industry is the regulation of the trade. In fact, in most of the developed countries this is the major role played by the state. There also national and international associations for various sectors in tourism which have their own code of ethics for membership. In case of any complaint the individual members can lose the membership and can even be black listed. The J & K state has one of the best legislations known as the J & K Registration of Tourist Trade Act 1978/82 which controls entire tourism activity in the whole of the state. For enforcing various provisions of the Act, the department has an enforcement wing headed by a regular police officer of the rank of a superintendant of police on deputation. The officer has a company of police called the Tourist Police to help him in enforcing the Act. The officers of the tourism department have magisterial powers under the Act. They can enforce the attendance of witnesses by issuing summons and warrants and have also compounding powers. A written complaint of a tourist is admissible as evidence even if the tourist has left the state. Touting and pestering of tourists is a cognizable offence. Unfortunately, the state police who are supposed to enforce this section of the Act either are unaware of it or prefer not to enforce it! For any destination the repeat tourism is very important. However, one can expect repeat tourism only when the tourists are satisfied with the services and have an assurance that any complaints would be immediately attended to. It is here that regulatory authority in tourism has a very important role. Accountability of the service providers is very important for the reputation of a destination. This has to be ensured and its availability widely publicised. The services include not only boarding and lodging facilities but shopping also. The state has to pay adequate attention to this aspect.
The points outlined can be basis of some brain storming sessions for the travel trade and government representatives. It is essential to formulate a proper policy for tourism development before going in for massive promotion and marketing. It is hoped the concerned in the trade will take the initiative to revamp the Tourism Industry in the State.
About the Author
Mr. M. Ashraf, IAS
Mr. M. Ashraf had been Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir in 1996 from which post he retired in 2003 after a total service of 30 years in Tourism.