Highway restrictions taking toll on tourism, say stakeholders

Samphel assures streamlining of tourist movement soon
Highway restrictions taking toll on tourism, say stakeholders

Various tourism players on Sunday said that restrictions on traffic movement on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway imposed by the authorities in view of the ongoing Amarnath Yatra are taking a toll on Kashmir tourism.

These tourism players were speaking at an interactivesession organised by the Tourism Department with the Commissioner SecretaryTourism Rigzin Samphel at the Royal Springs Golf Course.

Delegations of tour operators, hoteliers, houseboat ownersapprised the secretary about problems being faced by tourism sector due to thetraffic restrictions on the national highway and at Pahalgam and Sonamargresorts. The tourism players also highlighted the need for aggressive tourismpromotion especially on social media.

Ashfaq Siddiq Dug, president, Travel Agents Association ofKashmir who was a part of the delegation that met the secretary said tourismbusiness to Valley has taken a major hit due to the national highwayrestrictions and skyrocketing of airfares. Dug said tourists at the famoushealth resorts are being "whisked away in a hurry" without giving them a chanceto complete their tour itinerary.

"Tour operators are suffering as leisure tourists aredropping their plans for sightseeing or staying in the Valley now-a-days due tohighway curbs. There is a lot of trust deficit for which we have been wantingto hold an interactive session with the Governor for last one year," Dug said.

Manzoor Wangnoo, chairman, Nigeen Tourist TradersAssociation said instead of imposing restrictions, government should utiliseAmarnath Yatra as an opportunity to promote Kashmir tourism. Wangoo said wordof mouth publicity by the Amarnath pilgrims can help boost tourism in thevalley.

"On one hand we are making efforts to encourage tourism bytaking part in travel marts and road shows but all our efforts have gone invain. As a result of such strict measures tourists are suffering as we seem tobe in a cage," Wangnoo said. "Often during Amarnath Yatra there is a dropin number of leisure tourists but the Valley this time has witnessed a majordrop in arrivals due to the highway curbs," Shah added.

Occupancy rates in hotels have also dwindled as tourists whohad plans of staying in Pahalgam and Sonamarg are not able to do so, said WahidMalik, president, Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation. Malik saidrestrictions on traffic movement on the highway is putting leisure tourists toa great inconvenience.

"For more than five years this industry has been sufferingand now this enforcement is proving to be a dampener for all tourismstakeholders including hotel owners. We were hoping that occupancy rates wouldincrease during Yatra but that has not happened," Malik said.

Manzoor Pakhtoon, president Jammu and Kashmir TourismAlliance said Tourism Department must deploy tourist police at check points tothe valley and health-resorts to "differentiate between Amarnath pilgrims andleisure tourists" so that movement of the latter is unrestricted.

The tourism players also raised the issue of absence of publictoilets enroute national highway to which the secretary tourism said thedepartment is conducting a massive drive to install bio-toilets both on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and the Mughal Road. Samphel also assured thestakeholders that traffic management on Jammu-Srinagar national highway duringAmarnath Yatra is being taken up with highest possible authorities.

"We acknowledge that you are quite hospitable towards theYatra. The department has taken up the issue of traffic management with higher authoritiesand it is being streamlined," said Samphel. Commenting on tourism promotion, Samphel said J&K Tourism washighest spender on print media advertisements across the country. "Apromotional campaign run by Sri Lanka Tourism Board after the Colombo incident( blast) is something we have taken some lessons from. We have started acampaign 'When are you visiting us?' which has been a success and will ensurethat tourist promotion and tourist infrastructure are a priority," Samphelsaid.

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