Most of the politicians never tire of claiming Tourism to be the backbone of Kashmir’s economy. In fact, the slogan has become a vote catcher and a barometer of political normalcy. No doubt, Tourism has the potential of becoming the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy but with a big if! That big if is the prevalence of real peace which is the basic requirement for development of tourism all over the world. There is no doubt that Kashmir has the best tourism potential in various types of this activity. The salubrious climate, the wonderfully serene and pure nature, and unlimited avenues for adventure give Kashmir a unique treasure for developing all kinds of tourism activities both in summer and winter. The meadows in the mountains could easily be developed into dozens of mountain resorts. The winter allows various mountain areas to be converted into ski resorts with excellent snow conditions. The mountain streams are ideal for white water sports. There is no dearth of mountain peaks and trails for mountaineering and trekking. Next to prevalence of a peaceful atmosphere, the most important requirement is planned development for sustainable tourism. All over the world tourism and environment seem to be at loggerheads with each other. However, for tourism activity to be beneficial to the people, there has to be a balance between development and sustainability of environment for this activity. The greatest enemy of tourism is ad hoc development which plays havoc with environment the very basis of attraction in the first instance!
In spite of the fact that Tourism is touted as the backbone of Kashmir’s economy, the government has so far failed to produce a vision document and a perspective plan to let people know the goals set and the road map to reach these goals in a stipulated period of time. So far everything is being done on ad hoc basis by pick and choose. On and off tourist arrival figures are given in millions of tourists and pilgrims visiting Kashmir. The arrivals are not so important. The impact of tourism can only be judged by the status and profile of tourists and the number of nights spent by them at a particular destination. A lesser number of up market tourists staying for longer duration contribute more than millions of budgeted tourists. Moreover, every tourist destination has a carrying capacity and anything beyond that capacity is detrimental to the very environment which attracts the tourists to that place.
In addition to a workable perspective plan to develop sustainable tourism, the other most important requirement is the professionalism of the members of the organisation entrusted with the implementation and monitoring of the same. In every field in modern tourism there are experts and professionals. Tourism marketing needs a person trained and experienced in marketing of this type of product. Tourism planning is a specialised subject. The most popular active or adventure tourism involving activities like mountaineering, skiing, rafting and so on is the job of adventure specialists. All these professional jobs cannot be handled by officers trained in mere administration. Again there is need for co-ordination and focused development as well as promotion. At the moment there is no single head that could co-ordinate and monitor activities of the three distinct destination regions. Each is going its way! The post of Director General Tourism as the head of the State Tourism Organisation has probably been abolished? There is need to revive the post to co-ordinate various activities and project J & K State as a composite tourist destination.
Almost two decades back Tourism was declared as an industry but due to paucity of funds at that time, the package of incentives was restricted and was not commensurate with the incentives given to other industries. This especially applies to power tariff, land and availability of capital on special interest rates and so on. In case, the government wants development of infrastructure to meet the demand of increasing tourist arrivals, all the incentives available to other industries need to be extended to tourism activity also without any reservations. Then above everything else, the government itself needs to get out from the commercial side of developing tourism. At the moment government is itself getting into commercial exploitation of tourism. In fact, Comptroller and Auditor General of India in its last report has pointed out that the State has set up infrastructure in new tourist areas through more than a dozen Tourism Development Authorities which has remained unutilised and is virtually infructuous expenditure! If tourism is to be developed on modern scientific lines as a viable economic activity, then government must follow the declaration of Margaret Thatcher that “government has no business to be in business!” Unless some practical steps are taken, the Tourism in the state will continue to be an “Orphan” industry merely used as a political slogan by every Tom, Dick and Harry!