Tourism is one of the oldest trades in the world. In ancient times trading means exchange of goods. Initially the trading of goods was based on barter system i,e exchange of goods against goods but later on this system was replaced by exchange of goods against their value measured with money. In al other trades goods and services are traded even without the people to people contact. But tourism is the only trade where people to poelpe contact are necessary. Because whenever a tourist started journey he has to physically visit the places he/she wanted to see. Besides economic benefits tourism brings people to people contact which also resulted in cultural exchange.
Tourism is considered back bone of Jammu and Kashmir economy. World over tourism in modern era is considered one of the main avenue of employment generation, economic development, cultural exchange etc. Different tourist centres has different attraction like heritage, pilgrimage, infrastructure, natural beauty, etc. But Kashmir has combination of all the attraction from natural beauty, pilgrimage heritage, cultural, handicraft. Kashmir was a popular attraction in ancient times as well. It was also one the important destination of silk route. Kashmir was attraction of almost all the ruler like Mugals, Sikhs,Britishers, Afgans etc. Mugals were so found of Kashmir that they constructed Mugal Road from Delhi to Srinagar. The Mugal Gardens of Kashmir are testimony of their love for Kashmir.
But due to Foreign sponsored terrorism during the last two decades tourism was badly affected. Before the start of the dark era of terrorism Kashmir was favourite destination of national and international tourists. Kashmir was favourite destination of Bollywood films. Be it Mugal Gardens, Dal Lake, Gulmarg, Phalgam the shooting of mega Bollywood films was routine. The leading film stars were having 2-3 shift schedules in Kashmir. Even today some tourist huts at Pahalgam and Gulmarg are known by the name of Film Stars like Raj Kumar, Dalip Kumar, Raj Kapoor because film stars preferred to stay in these huts whenever they visit Kashmir.
As already mentioned tourist industry was the worst effected during the turmoil. During peak militancy of early 1990s some news papers reported that the house boats owners who used to maintain luxurious rooms for tourists were compelled to sell their items like TV, Refrigerator etc for their daily livelihood. Some of them also started poultry in their backyard. During this dark era the condition of all tourist related businesses like handcraft (shawl, carpet), hotel, fruit, shikara, hourse, transport etc was pitiable. Forget about the tourist even Govt. employees were reluctant to go to Kashmir for their official duties. Large scale population including Muslim population migrated outside Kashmir valley and other terrorist affected areas.
Once the signs of peace were visible in Kashmir everything started gearing up for peace and development. It was during this period that tourism and its related trade got impetus. Although tourists started trickling in Kashmir valley but because of unfortunate incidents three consecutive summers 2008, 2009, 2010 were not peaceful. But due govt efforts and cooperation of civil population the summer of 2011 was free from any untoward incident. Because of peaceful summer Tourist arrival was normal and this trend continued during winters 2011 as well. Sensing the mood of population even the separatist are laying low. The peaceful summer of 2011 has opened flood gates for tourists particularly domestic tourist to Kashmir Valley.
The indication of tourist boom in Kashmir valley was inflow of tourist during winter season. For example before the start of Pakistan sponsored terrorism in 1989 during winters tourist used to visit Gulmarg for skiing, other tourist places like pahalgam used to be deserted and most of the Hotels remained closed during winters. But because of continues inflow of tourist Gulmarg was packed and Pahalgam hotels were having occupancy of 30-40%. All the hotels in Phalgam remained opened during winters 2011.
During current season there is heavy rush of tourists to Kashmir. Approximately 80% of hotel and house boats for summer 2012 was booked up to January 2012. The tourist department is expecting 20 lacs tourist during summer 2012. All the hotels, houseboats, guest house are 100% booked. Govt. is encouraging private guest houses for registration and large number of guest houses are registered by Govt. Tourist department is giving tents to the tourists. Director tourism has requested the hotel owners to put tents in their lawns to accommodate more and more tourists. Department has also authorised travel agencies to put tents in meadows and open spaces without compromising the local environment. It is surprised that some hotels have come up in down town (once hub of gun touting militants) and they are also 100% booked. Govt is also promoting Heritage tourism in Kashmir. In order to promote heritage tourism Govt started mini steamer from Zero Bridge Srinagar up to the Barrage in river Jhelum. The motorised boat will pass through the old city and tourists will have firsthand experience of kashmiri heritage.
Everybody- tourists, hotel, houseboat, handicraft, transport is happy and enjoying the peace and beauty of Kashmir. On way back from Kashmir I enquired from Taxi driver about the tourist season. He was happy and replied that he got two taxis financed from Bank for four years but in view of the tourist season he will be in a position to repay the loan in one year.
Peace is key to progress and development of every state/ country. It is because of peaceful atmosphere that state is experiencing record tourist arrival. The credit of peaceful atmosphere goes to the police, civil administration, political leadership and above all the local people of Kashmir. Despite of hardship and provocative propaganda from across the borders they have maintained peace and harmony in Kashmir. When everything is going on smoothly everybody from Govt to civil population must keep their ears and eyes open, because the enemy of peace are feeling frustrated and they are looking for one or the other excuse for disturbing peaceful atmosphere.
In my opinion tourism is the only industry which brings economic benefit to the lowest level directly. The other developmental activity like infrastructure and mega projects takes time to complete. Sometimes these projects are delayed due to displacement, land acquisition, environmental problem etc. But in case of tourism no such delays accrued and people are benefited immediately. In other words all the people who come in contact with tourist and its related trades is benefited immediately, for example as soon as tourist steps out of his/her house the benefits started flowing in terms of his payments to Taxi, Hotel, travel agent, rail/bus/air, shopping etc till he/she reaches back.
Not only in Jammu and Kashmir tourism is emerging as the largest sector in the world for employment and development. Besides natural gift of scenic beauty the state of Jammu and Kashmir has rich cultural and religious heritage in all religion. The Shrines and pilgrimage yatras are classic example of communal harmony. The role of tourism in economic development and employment generation is immense. With the emergence of new avenues there are huge possibilities of growth in this sector. The tourism industry is poised to garner job opportunities not only in urban areas but in rural areas also.
In a study The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and Yes Bank have projected that India Would get capital investment worth US $ 94.5 billion by 2019 in tourism and ravel sector and it is expected to grove by 8.8% between 2011 t0 2019. Besides the two institutions are of the view that the growing travel and tourism industry will place India at the third position in the world in a decade’s time. The study further forecasts that the domestic travel and tourism industry is expected to be 2nd largest employer in the world which is likely to employee over four crore people by 2019, considering the way travel and tourism industry has started growing. In view of this national growth the estimated by ASSOCHAM and Yes Bank, Jammu and Kashmir sate should gear up itself by putting in place all tourism related activities well in time so that tourists can enjoy their tour to state. The reference of study of the above mentioned was necessary here because in Indian tourist and travel industry grows tourism sector and its allied sectors in Jammu and Kashmir will also grow because Jammu and Kashmir is one of the major tourist centre of India.
In coming years tourism would be the major service industry in the country and largest in Jammu and Kashmir state compared to other states. In a developing state like Jammu and Kashmir the importance would lie in being an instrument fro economic development and employment generation, particularly in rural and backward areas. Govt of India has initiated steps for Agri. Tourism. In J&K horticulture tourism can be promoted this will be an added value for tourism. This will finally transform and eventually promote Agri./Hort. Tourism by involving thousands of farmers into it, This will change their economic position. Kashmir being No.1 apple producer in India will surely attract more Agri./Hort. Tourism.
India as whole and particularly Kashmir has lot of potential in the tourism sector. Earlier it use to be seasonal tourist but now things has changed and all year round tourism activity is taking place. In Jammu and Kashmir as already mentioned above apart from Kashmir place like Patnitop, Sanasar, Bhadarwah are also attracting more tourists compared to previous years.
Jammu And Kashmir State can also draw benefits from the special schemes launched by central Govt. The ministry of tourism Govt. of India has also launched a special programme called “ HUMAR SE ROZGAR” which offers short but quality training course covering food and beverages services, food production, housekeeping utility, bakery and pastiseries for creation of employable skill among youth who are in the age group of 18 to 28 years. Recently a programme has been launched for imparting skills in driving and stone masonry also.
As a result of improving situation in Jammu and Kashmir and in order to expedite tourism and development the state government has creacted area specific development authorities like Patnitop Developmant Authority (PDA), Bhadarwah Development Authority (BDA), Phalgam Development Authority(PDA), Dodhpathri Development Authority (DDA), etc. These development authorities have yielded good results. The state Govt. has also initiated plan to start water transport in river Jhelum on traditional route like from Bijbhera in south Kashmir to Baramullah in north Kashmir.
With Kashmir returning to normalcy the people of Kashmir are revisiting the traditional hospitality of Kashmir. Kashmir has a rich culture of hospitality and delicacy in its cuisines. For example Kashmiri WAZWAN which is available only in Kashmir Valley. Thus Kashmir has a unique blend of culture, hospitality with nature gifted snow covered mountains, planes, lakes, rivers, springs, handicraft, handloom, horticulture, floriculture etc.
One must say that dark era of militancy and violence in Kashmir is over and whole state is witnessing fresh air of peace and prosperity. The central Govt. has already formed various working group to generate employment, confidence building measures etc. Both state and central Govt are working tirelessly towards long lasting peace by involving all shades of people in various activities. I must say that tourism growth in Kashmir is directly proportional to peace.