By Natascha Shah
The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, in collaboration with Department of Tourism, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, FICCI and India Golf Tourism Association organised an event in Srinagar, “Tapping the Potential of Kashmir; another day in paradise,” on the 12-13 April 2021. Aimed at promoting Kashmir as a luxury destination, with focus on Weddings, Golf, Film tourism, food and culture, it brought together opinion makers, travel tour operators, celebrity Chefs and diplomats for two days of panel discussions, exhibition, technical tours and a Golf Tournament at one of the most scenic golf courses in the world, the Royal Springs Golf Course, Srinagar.
A day full of sessions took place at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC), Srinagar. The beautiful venue, by the Dal lake provided a great backdrop to the important dialogue and interesting ideas that were exchanged. The Welcome panel consisted of Arvind Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India, Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India, BB Dash, Director, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India, Sarmad Hafeez, Secretary Tourism, Govt. of J&K, Dr. G.N Itoo, Director Tourism, Govt. of J&K, Jyotsna Suri, Past President FICCI, Chairperson FICCI Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Committee & CMD The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. Dilip Chenoi, Secretary General FICCI moderated the session. The Guest of Honour was Basheer Khan, Advisor to Hon’ble Lt. Governor, Govt. of J&K. Virtual addresses were given by Prahlad Singh Patel, Hon’ble Minister of State (IC) Tourism and Culture, Government of India and Manoj Sinha, Hon’ble Lt. Governor, Govt. of J&K.
Talking about the aid provided to the JK Tourism by the Central Govt., Arvind Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India said, “While allocating resources, J&K continues to be one of the focus areas of the Govt. of India. The ministry under Swadesh Darshan and Prashad scheme has sanctioned INR 562.79 Crores for development of tourism infrastructure in the UT. Most of these are in completion stage. The laser show in dal lake is one of such initiative amongst others to enhance the tourism experience.”
To improve connectivity, the Ministry of Tourism is working tirelessly with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Srinagar is now connected to all the major cities of the country by air, recently direct flights have also started from Bengaluru and Ahmadabad to Srinagar. Night flights have also commenced in the summer schedule adding to the influx of tourist.
Singh also mentioned that action is being taken to improve road connectivity. A list of 50 destinations has been submitted for taking up in the first phase. Setting up wayside amenities
and beautification of area at a distance of 15-20 km of the tourist sights is a part of the plan.
Another step that’s been taken is exempting domicile residents of J&K from the registration fees of INR 2000 for IITF (Incredible India Tourist Facilitator Certification Programme), an online learning programme with the objective of creating a pool of well trained tourist facilitators across the country. Additionally, the guidelines for market development assistance scheme for both domestic and international tourism have been revised to provide financial support to tourism service providers in J&K and this will enable theme to avail financial benefits for promoting J&K in both domestic and international maps.
Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India highlighted the immense growth in domestic tourism in the country, specially in Kashmir, in the past few months and stressed on identifying niche products like Golf, Weddings, Heritage and Culture that can be offered to the tourists. “There are a large number of heritage sites, not very far from the city of Srinagar, and many including some of the locals are unaware of them. These need to be brought to the notice of the travellers,” she said. To further boost the inflow of tourists in the valley, Brar asked the Tourism department to create appropriate promotion, so that the beautiful products can reach more and more people. At the same time, emphasis was made on responsible and sustainable tourism and in keeping in mind the carrying capacity, to avoid taking away from the beauty of this paradise.
Dr. G.N Itoo, Director Tourism, Govt. of J&K highlighted the growing number of tourists in a presentation, which also showcased some of the lesser known places of the Valley like Gurez and Tulail Valley, Kishan Ganga, Razdan Top, Habba Khatoon, Aharbal, Doodpathri, Yusmarg, Sinthantop, Bosholi, Badarwah, Taarbal, Nathatop and Gatha Lake.
Sarmad Hafeez, Secretary Tourism, Govt. of J&K highlighted the beauty of Kashmir as a tourist destination for every season, with a poetic description that made everyone in the audience visualise the stunning colours of fall, the fields ready for harvest, trees laden with apples to be plucked, the glory of winter and the soothing summers. Hafeez stressed on hospitality being a big part of Kashmiri culture. Talking about the safety of tourists, he said, “The locals love the tourists and I think that’s the biggest safety for them.”
He further added that no place in J&K is out of bounds for tourists and according to data by the National Crime Record Bureau there haven’t been any crimes on tourists. Kashmir is one of the safest places for solo female travellers.
Basheer Khan, Advisor to Hon’ble Lt. Governor ensured that the Govt. is already working on better infrastructure, “All trekking routes will be open and forest guesthouses will be refurbished, this will introduce people to a lot of new locales,” he further illustrated.
Some great suggestions like introducing a mobile application to keep the tourists updated and help them navigate around the city, focus on connectivity within the state and domestic tourists, were made by Jyotsna Suri, Past President FICCI, Chairperson FICCI Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Committee & CMD The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. Dilip Chenoi, Secretary General FICCI
In the virtual address, Prahlad Singh Patel, Hon’ble Minister of State (IC) Tourism and Culture, Government of India pointed out that the country has seen a five time hike in tourists in January 2021 in comparison to January 2020 in Jammu and Kashmir. Manoj Sinha, Hon’ble Lt. Governor, Govt. of J&K thanked Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for giving INR 786 crores in the budget this year for development of tourism in UT , which is 509 crore higher than last time.
A live cooking session with Chef Pankaj Bhadouria took place at the IHM Srinagar, where she whipped up exotic dishes using local ingredients. Celebrity Chef Ranveer Brar also took part in one of the sessions on cuisine and culture. HE Ambassador of Georgia to India, Achil Dzuliashvili, explored Gulmarg and had a great time skiing on its snow laden slopes. The Golf Tournament took place at the foothills of Zabarwan mountains, at the Royal Springs Golf Course. The Diplomats that participated in the tournament were, His Excellency Commissioner of Kenya and his spouse, HE Ambassador of Vietnam along with pro-golfers (male and female) from the country and local golfers of Srinagar, Corporates, members of the Travel Trade industry and Hoteliers. “It was a big challenge to organise an event of this magnitude at such a short notice but the amazing support, guidance and experience given by Ministry of Tourism motivated all of us to work as a team and make this a great success. One of the Ambassadors is already planning to go back this summer, for another tournament,” says Rajan Sehgal, President- India Golf Tourism Association.
The event was very well organised and managed and all Covid-19 protocols were duly followed. The Ministry of Tourism, Govt of Delhi further added that this was the first of many events, and a series of these are on the cards to sustain and push the growth in this sector further.