Kashmir emerging as a big-fat wedding destination

Vloggers, influencers create a bigger canvas for the ‘Made in Heaven’ weddings in ‘Paradise on Earth’
Kashmir emerging as a big-fat wedding destination
GK Photo

As Kashmir, known by the sobriquet ‘Paradise on Earth’, witnessed record footfall of tourists this year, many ‘Made in Heaven’ style big-fat weddings are also being solemnised with the government promoting various destinations.

“Kashmir offers you everything that you want in a wedding destination—charm, history, elegance, beauty, serenity,” prominent international wedding planner and CEO of L’amore Weddings, Gunjan Bansal, told Greater Kashmir. “Foreign clients want the calmness of nature and the beauty that takes your breath away. Kashmir offers you all that,” she says. “But we must understand that everything comes with a prize. There has to be some strict monitoring at this scale,” she says.

She says that the Himalayan Kashmir region has a huge potential of emerging as a wedding destination in Asia. “Kashmir has a lot of potential as a destination for weddings. It's picturesque and beautiful. But it lacks infrastructure and big inventory in hotels. Indian weddings are generally big in number and they don't like to do many hotels,” Bansal says. She suggested to the government that Kashmir, where a major foreign tourist influx is seen, also lacks certain infrastructure. She suggested that there was a need to bring some major foreign travel agents to Kashmir to see what it is offering. “Kashmir is always hogging headlines for political reasons but other sectors can’t just wait. When Kashmir is getting into the news, foreign tourists are afraid to come forward. We need to show them that it's safe now and promote Kashmir as a safe destination,” she says. Bansal says that if the government would come forward with a proper roadmap, several international wedding planners would like to come to Srinagar and explore Kashmir to promote it as a preferred wedding destination. “Help me then I will like to bring a few of my big travel agents and planners from abroad to see Kashmir and help me promote it."

A local wedding planner, Nida Nazir, while talking to Greater Kashmir, shares that a lot is yet to be done on part of the government. She argues that promoting Kashmir as a preferred wedding destination was a welcome step. However, all the stakeholders must be part of the initiative. “I do not see Kashmir getting to that scale yet. Preferred wedding destination comes with a lot of responsibilities. Destination weddings are very huge and require a good team, management, and most importantly huge places where the weddings would take place,” Nida says, adding “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough infrastructure here in Kashmir yet. We have basic event management teams with only a few places for weddings that won’t suffice for destination weddings.”

Nida, who initially started an initiative ‘makeupshakeupbynidanazir’ witnessed many changes in Kashmiri weddings. “Local people also prefer glamour. There is a huge potential in this sector but all we need is professional services to be delivered to the clients,” she says. “When it comes to destination weddings. They can’t be done in basic hotels, marriage halls that we have here in Kashmir.” After three years of slump, the Kashmir region has witnessed a massive influx of tourists this summer bringing joy to the faces of stakeholders. According to official figures, over 1, 80,000 tourists visited the valley till 17th May. In April, the number was 2, 72,000, in March it was 1, 80,000, in February was 1,10,000 and in January was 60,000 which means that over seven lakh tourists have visited Kashmir till now.

Last year, as per the data over seven lakh tourists visited Kashmir, in 2020 forty-one thousand and in 2019 about six lakh tourists visited the scenic valley. Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha recently said that Kashmir was witnessing a “golden period” on the tourism front as 80 lakh tourists have visited the UT in the past few months alone, breaking all the records of the past 20 years. He had said that the flight operations too broke all previous records. “We have witnessed a booming number of tourists this year so far. The department is also making efforts to bring back tourism to the place with the right attitude,” a senior tourism official says.

VLOGGERS, INFLUENCERS

Kashmiri photographers and Instagram sensations are helping the government to realise this dream. They are promoting various destinations in their posts and Instagram reels. Recently Aamir Wani (@kashmirthroughmylens) and Dubai-based lawyer Afsha Karim in Srinagar, the city they met and fell in love with when Afsha was visiting as a tourist. "Neither of us wanted a ballroom wedding. We wanted something authentic and intimate. Kashmir, with its hospitality, culture, local talent, and beauty offered all this and more,” Amir was quoted

In another case, an extravagant marriage ceremony of a Canada-based realtor with a Kashmiri engineer in the picturesque Pahalgam tourist resort highlighted the exponential potential of destination weddings in Kashmir valley. The journey of Canada-based realtor Rajvir Kaur started last year when she met Kashmiri engineer Jaspreet Singh for the first time in the village of shepherds during a calligraphy camp. Kaur, who organizes calligraphy camps in many places across India and abroad to promote Punjabi, found her soul mate in Jaspreet. Over time, both developed a bond and decided to enter wedlock. The wedding finally took place in Pahalgam with as many as 170 guests, including family and friends turning up at the venue to give their blessing to the couple.

A prominent hotelier from Pahalgam, who wished to remain anonymous, says that destination weddings have a “huge potential” to boost tourism in the Kashmir region. “I can say Pahalgam has sufficient infrastructure to host large-scale, high-end weddings,” he says. “We have now experience hosting several fat weddings in Pahalgam and Srinagar. Government must promote and give it wider publicity and also bring social media influencers to take it to the next level.”

‘Government must move beyond lip services’

Chairman of Raja Rani Travels, Abhijeet Patil told Greater Kashmir that the government needs a roadmap for bringing Kashmir to the international wedding destination map and moving beyond “lip services.”

“If the government in Jammu and Kashmir is serious, all they need is to sit with the stakeholders and chalk out a strategy for making Kashmir the preferred wedding destination.” “The general scare has to go. The infrastructure has to be upgraded and lined with stakeholders including fashion designers, makeup, set, set designs have to be readily available,” he says. “Sometimes the government has to understand that certain projects don’t move with just lip service or photo ops,” he says. “Currently wedding tourism is booming in India, and Indian weddings are making a mark globally. The government in Jammu and Kashmir has to understand that God has gifted them with stunningly beautiful locales. All they need is the proper handling of things and affairs at the helm.” “I must say that the government needs a roadmap and vision. Kashmir has to move beyond the honeymoon to the wedding destination,” Patil says. “Today we are in Mauritius and we have destinations lined up till March 2023 in countries including Russia, Dubai among others.”

A local stakeholder, Hafeez Ur Rahman, who writes on the Kashmir economy, argues that the “government must work on lifting international advisories on Kashmir. This will surely help the Kashmir economy, especially tourism in Jammu and Kashmir to grow leaps and bounds.” Pertinently, the valley has witnessed record-breaking tourist footfall with officials claiming that over 1.06 crore tourists visited Jammu and Kashmir during the current year. Officials of the Department of Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir say that the government was focusing on wedding tourism in a bid to boost tourism in the Union Territory. “Many big fat weddings have been solemnised in Pahalgam, Gulmarg, and Srinagar outskirts,” officials say. They say that the upcoming weddings are likely to be celebrated in five-star hotels like Vivanta by Taj and the Grand Lalit, nested in the lap of the Zabarwan forest range and overlooking the pristine Dal Lake.

OFFICIAL SPEAKS

Commissioner Secretary, Department of Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir, Sarmad Hafeez says that Kashmir is being promoted as a wedding destination apart from routine promotions. “We are happy foreign clients are coming to the Kashmir destination wedding,” he says. “We recently saw many cases preferring Kashmir. A couple from Canada visited Pahalgam and their function was facilitated by the local stakeholders.” He says, adding “Apart from adventure tourism and other tourism activities, we are trying to promote Kashmir as a wedding destination as it has a lot of potential and people are keen to conduct weddings here.” Hafiz says that around 70 untapped destinations have been identified and are being promoted globally. "We are also aiming to promote corporate tourism extensively,” he says. He shared that the department was trying to focus on tourism at the grassroots level and provide people, who come here, with a complete tourism experience.

He revealed that the government is also focusing on MICE tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) and have hosted several companies including MakeMyTrip and Asian paints for annual conferences at SKICC (Sher-e- Kashmir International Convention Centre). “We are also facilitating meetings between Valley hoteliers with the event managers across the country so that more weddings and events can be held in Kashmir,” he says. At the same time, the initiative of the tourism department to promote Kashmir as a wedding destination has brought cheer to the tourism players of the valley.

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