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J&K Govt 'Misses' Roadmap for Rural Tourism

Inadequate policies put the sector on backburner: Stakeholders

At a time when Jammu and Kashmir is witnessing a boom in tourist influx, inadequate infrastructure, insufficient budget, lack of roadmap besides dearth of capacity building initiatives are pushing the rural tourism sector on the backburner.

While many stakeholders believe that Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a major push in the tourist influx in the last six months. However; the government was unable to tap the niche tourism in the region. They said that a “run of the mill” activities have been carried out to woo tourists to the Kashmir region, while many other areas including adventure tourism and rural tourism don’t seem to receive any official patronage.

“We have a lot of distractions as far as sustainable development in rural pockets are concerned,” a senior official, heading one of the tourism development authorities in Kashmir, told Greater Kashmir.


“We don’t have many things to offer to the tourists who want to go off-beat areas,” he added. “Importantly, we don’t have a strong policy in place for the development and upliftment of the rural tourism sector in the region.”

The officials said that the UNWTO recommendations On tourism and rural development suggests that the sustainability of tourism in rural areas would only be successful if a comprehensive, inclusive planning strategy is adopted and implemented based on a multi-action and multi-stakeholder participatory approach.

‘Utilise Local Resources’

According to stakeholders, the government must utilize the local resources and must give opportunities to local communities of mountainous and disadvantaged areas to create jobs and also improve their economic status, improve their organisational abilities and enhance their natural and cultural heritage.

“Rural tourism development should be one of the top priorities of the Tourism Department and they (government) should work on enhancing the overall facilities of the rural sector,” said Feroz Ahmad Baktoo, a stakeholder of the tourism industry. “All the stakeholders of the tourism industry must also focus on the availability of the diversification of the overall itinerary for the tourists in the region. WE should move beyond from offering a few places to our tourists and guide them to go and visit the off-beat destinations,” he said, adding, “Working on the rural tourism sector will bolster several actions with regard to the diversification of agricultural sector, promotion of local produce, new cultural methods, processing of agricultural products as well as the improvement of the services supplied in the sector of entertainment, accommodation and catering. This will give a new lease of life to the rural areas in Kashmir and also produce several jobs.”

‘Impact of Influencers’

With the emergence of social media, it has brought a paradigm shift worldwide as a medium of communication, facilitating users to observe, interact and exchange information. The stakeholders opine that the Tourism Department must encourage local vloggers, bloggers, and writers to write more on the unexplored areas of the region.

“We have seen how the evolution of social media has helped many to explore and earn name and fame,” they said. “So; it is important to encourage these professionals in order to bring remarkable changes on the ground.” They said that social media and new technology has changed the working of the tourism sector which they said has remarkably influenced the sustainable tourism business.

Notably, several international organizations like World Wide Fund for Nature, The International Ecotourism Society, Eco-Tourism Society of India, Rainforest Alliance, Sustainable Travel International and Global Sustainable Tourism Council are continuously working for marketing and dissemination of awareness of sustainable tourism through social media platforms in addition to conducting seminars and publishing annual reports.

“Tourism is a socio-cultural experience that involves the movement of people from their place of residence to other places and countries for enjoying leisure, local cuisines and delicacies, entertainment, shopping, recreation, education, business, spiritual, health and even visiting relatives and friends,” said, Muhammad Shafi Mir, a shikara owner.

According to the stakeholders, the tourism sector in Kashmir has seen phenomenal growth during the last 6 months as the winter was full of tourists. The high-end adventure sports lovers (skiers, snowboarders) from India who would spend lakhs in Europe for these activities came to Gulmarg this winter as there were travel restrictions to many European countries. This gave a great boost to Tourism in Kashmir.

A prominent RTI activist and columnist, Dr Raja Muzafar, who hails from central Kashmir’s district Budgam said that the Kashmir 's cultural tourism is of immense value but this isn't being explored. “The Western tourists have stopped coming to Kashmir. They want something different. They want to see the real Kashmir which they would see in 1940's to late 70s,” he said. “If the Govt wants to woo these tourists it must open the doors for Rural Tourism in Kashmir by creating small tourist villages and incentivising it.”

He suggested that the government must provide soft loans to local families having traditional houses. “The villages where we have a good number of craftsmen like potters, kangri makers, shawl workers, carpet makers should be given priority for being developed as rural tourism hubs,” he said, “The villages of folk artists like Chakri artists, Bhands can also be developed as Rural Tourism centers. Brainstorming needs to be done in this regard. Villages of Gujjars, Shinas, Pathans, can also be developed for this kind of Tourism.”

Where are high-end tourists

A senior Secretary level officer, who has served as director of tourism, told Greater Kashmir that several villages identified by the government of India identified under rural tourism initiatives couldn’t be developed further and the facilities in such rural pockets remain dismal. Some of the tourist villages to be the main attractions were Gagangir Sonamarg, Naranag Kangan, Vasaknag Kulgam, Akingam Anantnag, Drung Baramulla, Gohan Baramulla, Dandmoh Baramullah, Manasbal Bandipora, Saderkote Payeen Bandipora, Poshkar Budgam, Pakharpora Budgam, Kachwari Budgam, Kaimoh Anantnag, Omah Verinag, Chuntipathri, Nambal Nar, Dedikoot Baramulla, Sankoo Kargil, Banimulla Kulgam, Watlab Bandipora, Wader Wader Bala Kupwara, Nowgam-Mawar Kupwara, Litter Pulwama, Sharshali Pulwama, Baghi Sangerwani Pulwama, Hirpora Shopian, Tiger-Sumoor Leh, Khag Budgam, Rafiabad Baramulla, Chahal Shahkoot (Earthquake village] Kupwara.

“We realized whenever we diverted the tourists to these areas all we used to get lot of complaints and issues from the tourists as we hadn’t done any proper survey of the facilities,” he said, “if a tourist visits the offbeat destinations, he should have been provided with some basic amenities that wasn’t the case in these areas earlier. Besides that, in Kashmir rural tourism isn’t not just about these few tourist destinations. It is beyond that but there should be some scientific interventions from the government side, not just lip service.”

Another officer, wishing not to be named said that the government’s focus is to woo tourists to the already identified tourist destinations and no work is being carried out to develop another sector which would not only enhance the economic graph of the areas but also provide large scale jobs.

“Is tourism, all about numbers. No, Kashmir has a history of witnessing high-end tourists who would explore the length and breadth of the region and also pay well to our local stakeholders,” the officer said, “So rather than playing the number we should be able to offer something unique and something off beat to our tourists, especially to our foreign tourists.”

‘Horticultural Tourism’

The Director General (DG) Horticulture, Kashmir, Ajaz Ahmad Bhat said that Centre of Excellence (CoE), Zawoora is coming up as a major tourist attraction and the government was also promoting it. This would help in promoting the rural tourism sector across Kashmir region.

He said the department is taking several initiatives as part of Horticulture Tourism which is among the various initiatives taken by the Union Territory Administration. He said that it will help in promoting the Horticulture Sector as well as the tourism sector in the valley.

‘Work in Synergy’

According to Commissioner Secretary, Department of Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir government, Sarmad Hafiz, the Tourism growth potential of any areas across the regions can be harnessed as a strategy for Rural Development. He said that the development of a strong platform around the concept of rural tourism is definitely useful for the overall growth of any place, where almost 74% of the population resides in its 7 million villages. He said for the development of the tourism sector in its totality across Jammu and Kashmir, all the departments have to work in close coordination and on a convergence mode.

“Rural Tourism is one of the few activities which can provide a solution to many issues. Besides, there are other factors which are shifting the trend towards rural tourism like increasing levels of awareness, growing interest in heritage and culture and improved accessibility, and environmental consciousness,” he said, adding “. In the developed countries, this has resulted in a new style of tourism of visiting village settings to experience and live a relaxed and healthy lifestyle.”

Director, Department of Tourism, Kashmir, Dr G.N Ittoo, told Greater Kashmir that as part of the tourism revival plan, the government was taking several measures for the upliftment of the tourism sector and also bringing some unexplored destinations on the world tourism map. He said that 33 villages of Kashmir division have been identified for development as tourist Villages under the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan. The project report for these identified 38 villages of Kashmir Division had been earlier submitted to MOT, government of India OI for approval.

“We have 38 destinations across Kashmir for the development of rural tourism destinations,” Dr Ittoo told Greater Kashmir. However; he admitted that there was a need to give it a “bigger push.”

Promoting ‘Home stays’ in rural pockets

The Director said that the government had a policy under which in several areas people were given capacity building training and also provided with some incentives for providing home stays to the tourists visiting their areas. Under the scheme, he said, the stakeholders would get some incentives till 2018. "The government was planning to provide additional accommodations to the tourists visiting these areas or areas already on the tourist map."

“We are also working on reviving adventure tourism which would add to a great deal and we will have a lot of high-end tourists coming to Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. “With bumper season, we are also expecting a huge number of tourists in coming months and that would pose us with many issues and we are working on many fronts to provide hassle-free services to the tourists coming to the valley.”

The director said that the government under Mission Youth has provided several schemes and was aiming to rope in youth in order to provide them with employment opportunities. Regarding the complaints of the tourists amid high-tourist influx, the Director said that the department has a robust grievance mechanism in place.

J&K witnessing a new dawn of peace, prosperity and development: LG Sinha

Lieutenant Governor, Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, told Greater Kashmir that he was happy to see a momentous rise in the tourist arrival. This he said has encouraged many in the government to think out of the box for the tourism revival. He said that his administration was focusing on promoting Jammu and Kashmir to the international forums and hoped that this year would see a remarkable growth in the tourism sector.

“I have been interacting with many people, the local leaders and I must tell you that people are happy to see this change on the ground. We are witnessing a new dawn of peace, prosperity and development,” he added.

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