Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Urging domestic and overseas tour operators and media to showcase J&K as a safe tourist destination, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today said there has been a sea change in the situation and time has come to remove doubts from the minds of people visiting the State. He said enhanced tourist flow will push up State’s economy and bring in peace and stability. 
Talking this morning with a 24-member tour operators group from Greece, led by Ms. Mary Souli, Chief Minister said a positive change has taken place in the situation which can be visualized by everyone visiting the State. 
Mr. Abdullah said media and tour operators have a critical role to play in highlighting J&K as a safe tourist destination which will help in reviving the tourism industry. He said tour operators could be instrumental in persuading European and other western countries to issue fresh advisories regarding safety in visiting J&K. Sharing her experience of visiting the valley, Ms. Souli praised State’s natural beauty and described it as God’s gifted land and added that Kashmir is as normal as any other part of the world. “We have not seen anything unusual here. Protests take place everywhere including our own country”, Ms. Souli said.  
Praising people’s hospitality, Ms. Souli said, “Wherever we went, we were received with love and affection and care was taken of our smallest requirements”.  
The Greek tour leader said national and international tour operators should advise foreign visitors to visit Kashmir so that any doubt or fear in their minds is removed. She also suggested measures for improving infrastructure and services in the State with special reference to houseboats in Dal Lake. “Like J&K, Greece is a tourism-driven place”, she said, adding the State offers a lot to intending tourist in terms of tourism potential. 
Ms. Souli assured the Chief Minister that she will remove misgivings about traveling to Kashmir and would be sending at least a group of about 20 tourists to the State every week which will include visitors from Greece, Thailand and other parts of the world.

Strikes snatch poor man’s opportunity to earn livelihood: Omar

Chief Minister (CM) Mr. Omar Abdullah today said that the government would soon formulate a Tourism Advisory Committee to seek opinion from experts in the field of tourism industry. He said the government will work out a comprehensive policy for the growth and development of tourism in the State. 
The Chief Minister said that frequent strikes mar the current tourist season and deprive thousands of people from earning their livelihood. He said uncalled for shutdowns will wreck the economy of the poor people, who depend on tourism industry for their survival.
The Chief Minister said this while addressing representatives of over a dozen associations connected with tourist trade and industry, at SKICC here today. 
The associations included that of hoteliers, houseboat owners, tour operators, tourist taxi operators, shikara operators and travel agents.
The Chief Minister said peace was paramount for tourists to visit the State from other parts of the country and abroad. “It is our duty to create conducive atmosphere for promotion of tourism and remove doubts from the minds of people visiting the Valley”, he said, adding tourism should not suffer because of politics.
Chief Minister said that he would take up the issue of concessions and packages for the growth and sustenance of tourism industry with the State Finance and Tourism Ministers and, wherever required, with the Central government. “We will provide assistance to strengthen this economically important and employment generating industry”, he said, while asking the participants to play their role in creating a situation which is ideal for tourists visiting the Valley.
Outlining the importance of promoting tourism at national and overseas level to make tourism year-round activity, Mr. Abdullah said attention is required to further upgrade infrastructure and add-on facilities in this sector. He said hotels, houseboats, transport and catering facilities have to be improved to match international standards so that tourists visiting the State carry a good impression of the facilities with them.
The Chief Minister said government would also focus on developing adventure tourism in the State for which it has great potential. “J&K offers outstanding opportunities for water rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing and trekking”, he said, adding these areas require specific attention of the Tourism Department.
Mr. Abdullah said for sustained tourism promotional campaign, the government would also consider involvement of strong PR agencies and utilizing multimedia to market Kashmir within and outside the country. He said in order to attract tourists to spend evenings in Mughal Gardens and other places, he would ask the Union Tourism Ministry to restart the light-and-sound show and also start other recreations, in agreement with the culture, heritage and sentiments of the people. 
Secretary, Tourism, Ms. Tanveer Jehan said Tourism Department has installed 4,000 screens in 22 states of the country from June this year through which the scenic beauty of Kashmir is being showcased to attract more visitors to the valley..
Earlier, presidents of different associations related to tourism business, presented detailed account of packages, financial support, tax relief and other facilities required to strengthen the industry. They said the industry provides employment to over five lakh people directly and more than that number indirectly. They demanded a well-defined policy for the growth and development of tourism and an advisory body to suggest measures and monitor the sector for its integrated development.
Those who also spoke included Mr. G. M. Dug, Chairman, Tourism Alliance, Mr. Abdul Khalik Wangnoo, President, Trade Agency Society of Kashmir (TASK), Mr. Abdul Latif, President, Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation, Mr. Siraj Ahmad, President, Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHARA), Mr. Rouf Tramboo, President, Travel Association, Mr. Mohammad Azeem Tuman, President, Houseboat Owners Association, Mr. Abdul Hamid Wangnoo, President, Domestic Tour Operators Association, Mr. G. R. Sia, President, Travel Agents Association of India, J&K Chapter, Haji Abdul Rashid, President, Tourist Taxi Operators Association and Mr. Vicky Shah.