Tourist arrivals does not end kashmir issue, says Omar Abdullah
In a bid to keep separatists in good honour, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said successful tourism does not mean Kashmir issue ceased to exist. It just is an economic activity and nothing much should be read between the lines, he insisted.
“The tourist flow is merely an economic activity and should be seen in that perspective only,” Omar told a tourism related seminar on Tuesday. “Visiting of large number of visitors do not substantiate that no problem has left unsolved in the state.” Problems about Kashmir and the tourist flow need not be equated. “It is immaterial whether 1000 or 13 lakh visitors come to Kashmir and these numbers do not determine the normality and resolution of all problems.”
Dispelling the impression that the revival of tourism sector was neutralization of the Kashmir crisis, Omar said it can only be associated with economic prosperity and generation of substantial employment even for people without specialized skills.
J&K government, especially the tourism ministry, has adopted a policy that it will not reveal the exact statistics of the arrivals. The easy availability of statistics is encouraging politicians to dish it out and claim the credit for improving the situation, a claim that provokes insurgents.
Compared to last year, Kashmir witnessed 79 percent increase in the visitor footfalls this season. The number of foreigners is gradually increasing. So far, more than 13 lakh tourists including pilgrims to Amarnath visited Kashmir. It included 27596 foreigners. Successful tourist year led to lifting of many advisories by Western countries. It started with Germany, followed by Japan and more recently UK partially withdrew the advisory for urban areas of Kashmir. J&K gets more than ten million tourists, mostly pilgrims to Vishno Devi shrine in Katra.
Omar was very particular about the lack of tourism related infrastructure in Kashmir. “Visitors witness diverse and varied aspects of natural beauty in Valley during all seasons”, Omar said. “Up to the mark service delivery by all stakeholders in the sector holds key to rope in conventional and high-end tourists in the state.” Chief Minister said while creation of world class tourist infrastructure is significantly important for growth and development of tourism, the preservation and protection of natural beauty of health resorts is all the more important to pass on palatable and protected environment to the next generation.
A concern over infrastructure is something that Omar is sharing with the hospitality sector. Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHARA) officials said most of the infrastructure is in “bad shape” and one of the reasons is ban on construction works and repairs at tourist spots. “We have 2000 hotels with 50000 room capacity in Kashmir, which is sufficient enough to cater to the huge inflow of tourists,” KHARA president Showkat Chowdhary said. “We have an infrastructure that can cater to 20 lakh to 25 lakh tourists, a year. But if Srinagar receives two lakh tourists at a time, there is going to be a problem.”
J&K government is expecting a grand tourism year in 2013. “Right now you have enough of tourists coming from down south, almost daily,” a senior tourism ministry official said. “Some Bollywood films that were shot in Kashmir this summer have created a lot of interest and we expect the numbers to double in 2013.”