SUSTAINABLE TOURISM

‘Any unplanned or disproportionate growth in accommodation is therefore not advisable for the sustainability of tourism in a region like J&K’

G M DUG

THE time has come when Kashmir society has to became highly conscious and concerned about the safety of its natural resources, reasons being many like illegal cutting of trees, land encroachments and now the so called tourism promotion activists by some ‘stake-less’ persons who cry hoarse about so-called shortage of hotel accommodation for tourists at all tourist resorts.  Although they pose as well-wishers of Kashmir tourism, they either are ignorant of the wanton growth of concrete at our tourist spots that adversely impacts the fragile environment and ecology of valley, or have some other purpose to serve.
 The accommodation for tourists which is a part of basic infrastructure for tourism has never been noticed alarmingly short except for a few days during peak tourist season which does not justify the demand for massive addition. I remember that till 1980s the Department of Tourism used to erect self contained tents in the open land available for this purpose in front of TRC Srinagar to offset the shortage of accommodation mostly for tourists having not booked their accommodation in advance. Now, in view of ‘sitting at home Internet access’ one can ensure his hotel accommodation, at any place, ahead of months together of his arrival here.
 At a recently held Annual Convention of Association of Domestic Tour Organizer’s Of India (ADTOI), at Srinagar, it was really a moment of satisfaction for tourism fraternity and the people of state when His Excellency The Governor Mr. Vohra said that it is very important not to have disproportionate tourism infrastructure which may force us to compromise on environment and ecology safety norms. Similar views were expressed by Omer Abdullah; the Honorable Chief Minister at a KHAROF and KHARA hotel bodies’ joint seminar, recently held at SKICC, Srinagar.
 One has no alternative but to believe that the Government Departments and Authorities would take seriously the directions as given by these top functionaries of the state.
 It is after 1988 that the present notable increase in tourist arrivals during the past two years has given a ray of hope to people connected with tourism, directly or indirectly, otherwise for rest of the years how much they have suffered is known to everybody. We should not ignore the fact that investment in hotel infrastructure is of a higher magnitude, therefore, it is important to secure its sustenance which certainly would help to improve and maintain the standards of services and amenities in this sector which is also known as hospitality sector. Any unplanned or disproportionate growth in this sector therefore is not advisable for the sustainability of tourism in a region like J&K.
 All the successive governments in the state, on one hand, have declared tourism as main stay of economy but have never addressed the issues confronted by it in conformity to its higher degree of contribution to the economy of the state.  One feels disgusted that J&K state having substantial dependence on tourism but has till today no tourism policy. It gives a food for thought that maybe it is being done to allow haphazard and unplanned growth of tourism infrastructure  permitted vide ad hoc decisions  which otherwise would not be possible when  a tourism policy in place.
 Recently there have been a few announcements as made by the government that some of the Master plans are being modified but without assigning any reasons as to what factors forced government to take this decision. There have been doubts expressed by various quarters that it is being done to accommodate few influential individuals whose lands otherwise are prohibited for construction of tourism hospitality units. Here, it is important to mention that the 1st Master plan of Srinagar which was in force for 20 years  till 2000 had projections of creating tourist accommodation for 2 million tourists expecting the  sustained growth till end of 2000, the same is still a distant target to achieve. Now on other hand we have been adding upon tourism accommodation by constructing all sorts of new hotels, guest houses, paying guest houses and huts etc.
 State Government has banned construction of new houseboats in early 90s and the number of registered house boats stand restricted to 1200 only in all water bodies since then. The restriction, as is understood, is to save water bodies from pollution.  A House Boat Owner whose house boat turns in to shambles under normal use or due to some mishap, being highly fragile made of 95% timber, has to get a permission for its reconstruction or repairs, whatever the case may be, after completion of a long list of formalities including inspections at various stages by Authorities concerned. When comparing this with other commercial activities including construction of new hotels the concerned take all sorts of liberties, some times of a very grave nature to the utter detriment of stipulated norms laid down  for protection of environment and ecology.        
 While deliberating upon the figures we have at present accommodation available for 26 lakh tourists during 365 days, while presuming 5 days average stay of a tourist in valley. Now if we take figure of 13 lakh of tourists who visit the valley this year, even authentic, we may have to try to find out the reasons for such a meaningless campaign of shortage of accommodation for tourists. Although, there is a need to have few hundred more hotel rooms for top end tourists these should be allowed to come up at different tourist locations of Kashmir but without compromising on requisite norms laid down in this regard. Incentives need to be offered to such hoteliers who have an option to convert their properties in to star category hotels. Any permission required for such additions should be issued on priority basis.
 As far as other needs of tourism are concerned nobody tries to make out a case that we are still short of proper road network leading to most of our tourists resorts being a main obstacle in the way of having a luxury class of tourist bus system as no entrepreneur is ready to come forward to invest in this sector despite the availability of incentives offered by the Government for this purpose.
 There are numerous other problems in the way of making a stay of a tourist comfortable and problem free, such as availability of round the clock electricity, point to point passenger fares for autos and taxis, absence of public convenience units at most of the tourist resorts including tourist hub of Boulevard. Similarly, we are silent on issues like rise in frequency of flights between Leh and Srinagar which has only a flight during a week at present and operation of flights during morning and evening hours from Srinagar Airport.
 We have failed even in making available a hassle free pony ride to a tourist at Gulmarg. In the name of Kashmir handicrafts mostly non Kashmir origin items are being sold to a tourist and no effective steps to stop this menace has so far been taken by state authorities causing immense mistrust in the mind of a tourist about Kashmir.
 Another area of concern is high rate of VAT on service of eatables in hotels and restaurants being as high as 13.5 % when the rate for the same is only 4% in neighboring Himachal Pradesh. BY mentioning all above, I have tried to convey that the people who at present are supporting construction of out of proportion hotel accommodation should instead try to find out solutions of above issues and also apply their mind to the adverse consequences of it which would only eat up our precious open green areas, consisting of forests and meadows, being highly important and indispensable for our tourism and of course for our own sustenance as well.
 There have been many conferences and seminars held in recent years where stress has been given to promote tourism in J&K on sustainable basis. When we talk of sustainable tourism we cannot afford to sit as mute spectators but have to be always alert and active to save our ecology and environment including our open areas and forests, very important for its   sustainability.

The author is the former President of KCCI and KHAROF
and ex-chairman JKTA.  The ideas expressed are his own. Feedback gmdug@hotelpinegrove.com

Lastupdate on : Mon, 14 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 14 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 15 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST




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