Change – Tourism Industry
Planning, Infrastructure, Innovation and a Brand Image
HOPE BY JUNAID MATOO
Successive governments in our State have ensured that a significant portion of our State’s tourism potential remains untapped – both due to a general lack of political will and lack of future planning. While other tourism-rich States in India like Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have successfully created and nurtured their respective brand images, “Kashmir” as a brand image is more or less underdeveloped and vaguely portrayed. Our Tourism Department’s concept of growth and development in Tourism Infrastructure is, at best medieval. Most of the hotels that host the around million plus tourists that visit Kashmir every year have been built in the violation of archaic and obstructionist laws and regulations. If those laws and regulations had been adhered to, Kashmir wouldn’t have been able to accommodate more than a hundred thousand or so tourists every year. For a State like ours, where the tourism industry is of great economic significance, such criminal ineptitude at the policy making level is tragic.
This ineptitude stems primarily from the ignorance of our policy-makers and also their consistent efforts to obstruct any significant private sector growth in the tourism sector. Our Tourism department would love to claim credit for a fast degrading Dal Lake and the majestic mountains that surround the valley. Sadly, natural beauty is all that they can claim appreciation for.
It’s time our policy-makers answer some vital questions – How many hotels would the astronomically absurd “Srinagar Master Plan” have accommodated had there been no violations? How many houseboats have been allowed to be renovated, upgraded and remodeled by the terrifying Lakes and Waterways “Development” Authority? How many eating chains has Kashmir – a premiere tourism destination of the country attracted?
A tourist can no doubt be attracted by natural beauty, but destination tourism has greatly evolved over the last few decades. The needs of today’s tourist start from state-of-the-art public infrastructure and include entertainment, therapeutic and cultural concepts – needs that have been realized and well served in States like Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan for instance. A city which has been allowed to become a slum, a city with a hundred thousand stray dogs, a city with heaps of garbage and a city with unmotorable roads - doesn’t sound like a tourism destination. JKTDC can keep on organizing snow, spring and autumn festivals till the chickens come home to roost. Our governments can keep on wasting public wealth by sending ministers and bureaucrats on disguised personal vacations. Yet, there is no serious effort to develop and project Kashmir as India’s most attractive, convenient and tourist-friendly tourism destination.
Branding is an important concept in the Tourism industry. What started as the Swiss success was emulated across the world by various countries such as France, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Thailand and Malaysia. Within India, Gujarat – apparently not a traditional tourism destination – has been able to attract a greater tourist inflow than Kashmir. Amitabh Bacchan appearing on our TV sets and beseeching us to visit Gujarat to experience the history, traditions, natural beauty and culture of Gujarat should be a slap on the brazen faces of our policy makers. How have we evolved in branding and marketing “Kashmir” as a tourist destination? Sadly, turns out we are still stuck in the monochromatic ad video of a man rowing a Shikara across Dal Lake. How appealing for a modern-day, cosmopolitan tourist! Come to Kashmir – you get to row a boat, see the magnificence of nature and then get your intestines rearranged on our monstrous roads – that is if the fast growing army of stray dogs doesn’t decide to feast on your limbs.
Our Tourism sector will stagnate and eventually wither in a majorly competitive industry environment if our government doesn’t – 1) Develop the necessary public infrastructure that befits a good tourism destination (four-lane roads, good hospitals, effective sanitation and proper urban planning) and 2) Allow an unrestricted yet planned growth in the private sector – a growth that would see a multi-fold increase in both the quality and quantity of our hotels, houseboats and shopping malls. It’s perhaps time to make 5-year plans for the Tourism Industry and set growth and quality benchmarks. We cannot “add” new tourism destinations on the “map” without linking them with standard, modern road networks. Merely adding pictures on calendars will not suffice.
The role of the government in facilitating growth in the Tourism industry is simple – Make good roads, provide standard services, re-draft obstructionist laws, create and nurture a new, unique brand image and most importantly – incentivize and encourage a private sector spurt in the sector – don’t punish and torment entrepreneurs who have fabulous concepts that have been incarcerated by a controlling public sector. Let Tourism Flourish! For God’s sake allow an uninhibited prosperity to heal the wounds of a persecuted people!
(Junaid Azim Mattu is the Srinagar District President of J&K Peoples’ Conference. Ideas expressed are personal. Feedback at email@example.com)
Lastupdate on : Fri, 4 May 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 4 May 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 5 May 2012 00:00:00 IST
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