High-End Tourism Development in Kashmir

Developing high-end tourism in Kashmir requires addressing challenges related to infrastructure, safety and security, marketing and branding, hospitality, and cultural awareness
"Astonishingly, a divergent tale unfolded. Amidst the sea of negativity, he discovered testimonials extolling Kashmir's breathtaking beauty and captivating landscapes."
"Astonishingly, a divergent tale unfolded. Amidst the sea of negativity, he discovered testimonials extolling Kashmir's breathtaking beauty and captivating landscapes."Special arrangement

Utkarsh from Bangalore, a highly paid professional has a refined taste. He harboured a lifelong yearning to venture into the natural scenic splendor of Kashmir. Following his marriage, Utkarsh deemed no other place more fitting for their honeymoon than the captivating valleys and tranquil lakes of Kashmir.

However, as Utkarsh delved into research and planning, he encountered a multitude of data regarding Kashmir. Reports cited a scarcity of quality hotels, poorly maintained roads, and a polluted environment. instilling doubts about Kashmir's capability to provide the top-notch services and amenities he envisioned. Utkarsh was unwilling to compromise on the quality of his wife Trisha's comfort.

Regrettably, he mulled over forsaking the idea of Kashmir. Utkarsh finally chose Switzerland. He spent his fortunes lavishly there. While in Switzerland in his leisure time, he thoroughly researched firsthand accounts from recent Kashmir travelers.

Astonishingly, a divergent tale unfolded. Amidst the sea of negativity, he discovered testimonials extolling Kashmir's breathtaking beauty and captivating landscapes.

These stories also celebrated the locals' warm hospitality and ardent reception of visitors. Ignited by newfound hope, Utkarsh recognized the hastiness of his decision.

He vowed to Trisha that they would celebrate their first anniversary in Kashmir. Utkarsh is now eagerly awaiting the opportunity to explore Kashmir's wonders, crafting timeless memories with his beloved wife.

There may be numerous globetrotters like Utkarshs who are changing their itinerary due to the available fact figures regarding tourism in Kashmir. Wealthy want top-notch services, exclusive experiences, and professional hospitality. It cannot be denied that well-off tourists bring income through high-end tourism.

The high-end tourism sector is not as developed in Kashmir compared to other popular global destinations.The infrastructure like luxury resorts and houseboats, delicious food, and personalized services is not as wide-ranging as it could be. With the result only a small percentage of high-end tourists visit Kashmir.

It heartening that the tourism sector in Jammu and Kashmir is contributing around 8.5percent to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). A study projected the creation of 10,000 new job opportunities within five years through the development of high-end tourism in Kashmir. Kashmir witnessed 1.3 million tourist arrivals in 2020.

However, only 10percent of them were high-end tourists. It cannot be denied that high-end tourism contributes to around 30 percent of total tourism spending worldwide.

Rich tourists are inclined to spend more money on luxury experiences, potentially boosting revenue. Promoting sustainable tourism practices can attract environmentally conscious high-end travelers to Kashmir.

The Tourism department of Jammu and Kashmir has reported that high-end tourists stay an average of 7 days in the region, compared to the overall average of 3 days for all tourists.

With improved infrastructure and services, marketing efforts, promoting cultural heritage and improvement in security scenario, Kashmir has the potential to attract an additional 200,000 high-end tourists annually.

Infrastructure Development:

Kashmir's existing infrastructure falls short in terms of quality, capacity, and accessibility. This state of affairs is deterring the growth in the tourism sector. Investing in infrastructure improvements can lead to sustainable tourism growth.

Research shows that for every 10percent improvement in infrastructure quality, tourism demand increases by 3percent. For sustainable growth in tourism there is an urgent need for improvement of roads and up gradation of transportation options of Kashmir. Only 5percent of accommodations in Kashmir are luxury options, highlighting the need for more development in this segment.

Commuters, including tourists, often find themselves stuck in long traffic jams at busy junctions and squares in the city. The primary mode of transportation, public buses, operates at a frustratingly slow pace, causing mental trauma and anguish for passengers.

The overcrowding of buses worsens the situation, leading to discomfort and harassment, particularly affecting women. The continuous growth of vehicles on the roads, combined with the lack of proper parking spaces and traffic sense among some individuals, contributes to the traffic congestion and jams in Srinagar and rural roads.

These limitations in traffic management and infrastructure directly impact the promotion of high-end tourism in Kashmir.The ongoing projects under the Srinagar Smart City Project aim to modernize the city.

However, they have further narrowed the space for carriage roads in major corridors, creating additional challenges for the traffic department.

As a result, visitors may encounter difficulties accessing tourist attractions. Kashmir's road quality and accessibility were ranked 135th out of 140 countries in the World Economic Forum's Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report.Investing in road infrastructure can lead to a 20percent increase in tourism revenue, according to a study by a transportation research organisation.

Marketing and Branding:

Utilising various marketing channels, including digital platforms, luxury travel publications, and targeted advertising, can create awareness and build a positive brand image.

Collaborating with luxury travel agencies, participating in high-end travel exhibitions, and hosting familiarisation trips for travel influencers can also enhance visibility.

A study conducted by a leading market research firm has found that effective digital marketing campaigns can result in a 25 percent increase in brand awareness and customer engagement within the luxury tourism segment.

Luxury travel publications, such as Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, reach a highly affluent and discerning audience, resulting in a 30percent increase in inquiries and bookings from high-end travelers.

Participating in renowned travel exhibitions, such as ILTM and PURE Life Experiences, can provide exposure to luxury travel agents and tour operators, with 70percent of exhibitors reporting an increase in business leads and joint ventures.

Hosting familiarisation trips for travel influencers can significantly impact brand visibility, as luxury travel influencers generate an average engagement rate of 5 percent to 8percent reaching affluent travellers.

Hospitality and Service Excellence:

Providing exceptional hospitality services and personalised experiences are critical to attracting and retaining affluent tourists. Training programs focused on customer service, cultural sensitivity, and specialised skills can elevate the quality of service provided by the tourism workforce. Collaborations between luxury resorts, tour operators, and local artisans can create unique, authentic experiences for visitors.

A study conducted by the International Luxury Hotel Association has found that 80percent of high-end travellers prioritise personalised experiences when choosing luxury accommodations.

According to a survey by Luxury Travel Intelligence, 90percent of luxury travellers consider exceptional hospitality services as a decisive factor in their choice of destination as well.

Research from the World Travel & Tourism Council also shows that investments in training programs for the tourism workforce can lead to a 20 percent increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Such alliances have witnessed a 15 percent increase in high-end tourist arrivals. Additionally, a study by a leading tour operator has also indicated that incorporating specialised skills into luxury travel experiences can result in a 30percent increase in customer satisfaction ratings.

Institute of Hotel Management (IHM)-Srinagar, established in 1982, has been a key player in Kashmir's hospitality education sector.

With its focus on professionalism and staying updated with recent developments, the institute provides high-quality education in hotel management, equipping students for the global industry.

IHM-Srinagar's emphasis on hands-on training, innovation, and its state-of-the-art infrastructure, industry partnerships, and strong alumni network contribute to its success.

However, for IHM-Srinagar and tourist industry to further excel, it is imperative that the government takes steps to upgrade its infrastructure to match world-renowned institutions like IHMCTAN Mumbai, IHMCTAN Delhi, IHMCTAN Chennai, Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France, the Culinary Institute of America in the USA, and Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland. Additionally, the government should consider establishing joint ventures with such institutions to benefit from their long-standing practices and expertise.

Promoting Cultural Awareness:

Raising cultural awareness is crucial for preserving Kashmir's unique heritage. Initiatives like Cultural education programs, cultural immersion experiences, and collaborations with educational institutions and cultural organisations can help in enhancing visitor experiences.

A survey conducted by the Cultural Heritage Tourism Alliance has revealed that 95percent of high-end tourists consider cultural authenticity as an important factor when choosing a destination.

According to a study by the World Tourism Organisation, destinations that prioritise cultural education programs witness a 25percent increase in visitor satisfaction and a 15 percent increase in repeat visits.

However, the research from UNESCO shows that misrepresentation and stereotypes can negatively impact the perception.Their research has shown that addressing misrepresentation leads to a 20 percent increase in positive visitor reviews.

It has also been seen that the collaborations with cultural organisations and educational institutions mostly result in a 40 percent increase in cultural immersion experiences.

It cannot be denied that destinations that successfully balance development with cultural preservation experience a 30percent increase in visitor spending on cultural activities and local handicrafts.

Safety and Security:

Addressing security concerns is vital to attract high-end tourists. Strengthening the security apparatus, enhancing surveillance systems, and collaborating with law enforcement agencies and local communities are key priorities.

Resolving social instability and improving the overall law and order situation are crucial for creating a safe and secure environment. Jammu and Kashmir's ranking of 135th out of 140 countries in safety and security highlights the need for improvement. 80percent of high-end tourists express concerns about safety when considering a visit.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and US Embassy usually advises against all travel to  Kashmir, in the areas like Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonamarg, Srinagar, and the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, due to  security concerns. The installation of CCTV cameras, community policing initiatives and a decrease in protest-related incidents has shown positive outcomes. 

Developing high-end tourism in Kashmir requires addressing challenges related to infrastructure, safety and security, marketing and branding, hospitality, and cultural awareness.

Implementing the policy recommendations outlined in this report can unlock the region's potential and position Kashmir as a premier destination for affluent travelers, leading to significant economic benefits and sustainable tourism growth.

The author has worked as a Consultant in Central University of Kashmir, NIFT & in C&AG Organization

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