Kashmir valley has an established and a secured position as a magnificent place on world’s tourism map because of its immense potential to attract tourists to the diversity of mesmerizing natural sites spread all over its length and breadth. As such the Valley owes the well being of it economic muscle to the tourism sector which invariably has remained its backbone despite the development witnessed in other areas of economic importance. Among the various services sector in the valley, our tourism and travel industry has been proven as one of the key drivers of growth for the economy. Considering the varied seasonal and ecological diversity and abundance of places of natural beauty spread across the valley, tourism in Kashmir has a significant potential to push the valley, thus the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir to new economic heights. Apart from providing employment it also provides significant source of glamorous hustle and bustle all around the year. Kashmir offers various attractions of tourism which include lakes, rivers, mountains, forests, adventure tourism, medical tourism etc; hence offering much more diversity as compared to many other contemporary places across the country. Hence the potential for Kashmir to attract tourists all year around is unlimited and we need not only recognize its importance, but also need to keep the related infrastructure continuously upgraded and progressively dynamic. The fact of the matter is that the tourism phenomenon relies heavily on public utilities and infrastructural support.
Although the tourism in the valley has taken a viscous hit after the onset of militancy in early nineties, it has still remained a forerunner in determining the economic health of the valley. Multiple sections of the society are associated with the tourism which include those linked with hotel industry, restaurants, arts and crafts, travel agencies, tourist guide services, transport, adventure, high-end sports like golf, trekking, hiking and much more, thus making the tourism here a multi-dimensional activity.
Tourism is now an all year affair with different sections of tourists making their own preferences as per their budget, convenience, affordability, taste, and destinations. During the summer, may be a few deficiencies might not matter, as the extraordinary pleasant weather is itself a great natural asset having the potential of covering a few lacunae around. But the same does hold true during the winters. We have to have specific winter tourism infrastructure in place to accommodate those tourists who prefer the cold season as their vacation period. Snowfall does provide another great asset to the tourist attractions, but it must be backed up by a host of other facilities which can see a tourist feeling at home even during the sub-zero temperatures. Developing the tourist infrastructure further and upgrading the existing one for the winter tourism is thus of paramount importance.
Over the years winter tourism has emerged as a separate segment in the industry with lots of emphasis being put on this sector particularly in India. Kashmir provides one of the best winter tourist destinations in the country, or even across the globe owing to its traditional fulsome winters. Moreover there is comparatively lesser competition in the sector, hence more opportunities. Unfortunately we have failed to provide an infrastructure that could at least compete with, if not with the international standards, but at least at the national level to woo the tourist guests. No doubt that the continuous and unabated tumult in the valley has put a spanner in the development of the required infrastructure for winter tourism, but the fact remains that its progressive upgradations is the need of the hour in order to keep the industry alive for our own sake as well as for the coming generations. States all across the country are very fast in developing and promoting their tourism infra structure and potential. As such any complacence on our part in this regard may see us at a losing end and the loss may be irreparable.
Needless to mention that tourists use multiple services like information, relative prices, transportation, accommodation, and entertainment services and we have to be ever ready to offer the same with affordability and quality to sustain the competition. We need to understand that most tourists want to visit maximum tourist spots within the limited time at their disposal and as such the development of the facilities has to be in tune with such needs.
As winter season sets in, travelers across the world look out for specific destinations to spend leisure time. In Kashmir, the winter tourist finds a full basket of adventurous winter sports like skiing, ice hockey, Ice skating, snow cycling, sledging, snowboarding and snowmobiling, etc plus the Gondola rides to snow covered mountains. However, with tourists flowing in, the need arises for better infrastructure, facilities and amenities. Tourism infrastructure demands better services, services related to airports, transport, better shopping facilities, accommodation, restaurants, recreational facilities, medical facilities, etc. Services like power, communication, water supply, accessibility to better hygiene are few of the components which can make a tourist destination a perfect success and the recommended one. Supplementary services like availability of travel items and sports equipment can also be included as a part of tourism infrastructure. The other important ones are development of infrastructure products like trekking material, winter sports material, wildlife resorts, warm clothing and trained human resource. Facilitating and developing private sector participation is also a key factor to the growth of overall tourism infrastructure. They include trained tour guides, travel agents or tour operators, stewards, chefs and a host of their assistants.
Even in places of high priority like Pahalgam and Gulmarg, the infrastructure problems are innumerable particularly in the area of accommodation, amusement, food and hygiene, electricity and heating arrangements. The absence of public conveniences en-route or across and around such destinations as such is an issue that needs immediate attention. The time has come to create better facilities be it power, roads or boarding, lodging and entertainment all across the areas having tourism potential. There is an urgent need for the civic authorities to create better environment and work in tandem with the infrastructure project managers and provide necessary facilities by removing the bottlenecks in the developmental processes so that industry get the full benefit out of the entire season and multiple natural treasures the valley is bestowed with.
The valley is blessed with a number of places which have potential of being developed into all-season tourist hubs. Places like Yusmarg, Sonamarg, Dodh Pathri, Daksum Valley, Tosa Maidan and few others are unfortunately forgotten just at the onset of the winter season as if these places are only fit for the summer tourist. We are thus left with a little to offer to our winter tourist, hence reducing our own opportunities. There is an immediate need for integrated development of basic infrastructure and amenities along with planning for sustainable development across all tourism destinations in a balanced manner with a special focus on unexplored potential in the area of winter tourism. Remaining confined to Pahalgam and Gulmarg means minimizing a vast field of opportunities in the area of winter tourism across the valley.
Besides giving a fillip to the valley’s overall economic and social development, the winter tourism has a vast potential for generating employment during the otherwise lull winter days. However there is lot to be done by improving room standard, increasing and maintaining decent road connectivity to important tourist destinations and centers, adding hotel accommodation, and by improving living conditions in hotels and encouraging paying guest accommodations. It would be necessary for the Central and State governments and the private sectors and voluntary organizations to coordinate their efforts in this direction. If Kashmir has to be a favorite winter tourist destination, there has to be lot of encouragement from government to individuals to become active partners in the mission to attain a sustainable growth to tourism both during the summer as well as the winter.