In a bid to increase tourist flow to J&K from Gujarat, which constitutes 30% of all arrivals, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed today promised a ‘better-packaged and improved’ J&K that offers new vistas in pilgrim, heritage and leisure tourism.
He said he has personally come to Ahmedabad on a mission to strengthen the special bond between the two states in the tourism sector.
Mufti Sayeed, who also holds the charge of Tourism portfolio, was interacting with Gujarat’s leading tour operators at Hotel Hyatt, here today. Earlier, he was received at the Ahmedabad Airport by Gujarat’s Minister of State for Law & Justice and other senior officers of Gujarat and J&K Government.
Taking forward his interactions with leading tour operators from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, the Chief Minister underlined the need to change the public perception of J&K in the rest of the country. “Despite several impediments, we are striving to restore the confidence of leading tour operators in sending tourists to J&K to enjoy its splendour,” he said, while describing the damage suffered by the State in the September 2014 floods as colossal.
Praising the people and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in converting Gujarat into a role model state, the Chief Minister paid rich tributes to Mahatma Gandhi in the State where he was born.
Promising people to end the culture of corruption and red-tape in J&K, the Chief Minister said he is committed to provide a transparent and accountable Government to the people in the State. He said he is focusing on tourism as it provides instant relief to the people, most of whom are directly or indirectly connected with the tourism trade in the State.
Calling upon the tour operators to be partners in his ‘Mission Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh’, the Chief Minister said he has passed instructions for bringing into limelight new unexplored destinations like Sanasar, Mantalai, Kokernag, Aharbal, Nun Kun, Ranjit Sagar and Baghliar Dams.
Reiterating his earlier statement of promoting Gulmarg as India’s Davos, the Chief Minister said the Government will soon work to organize Corporate conferences in J&K so that high-end locations, especially resorts, are promoted as niche destinations. He also reiterated the Government’s focus on promoting Golf tourism and mountain expeditions.
Describing J&K as a pre-sold destination, the Chief Minister said the flow of tourists to Ladakh and Jammu has also grown considerably. He said besides the huge influx of pilgrim tourists to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine, steps have been taken to promote Jammu as an independent leisure destination. “Ladakh is an enchanting land that has attracted tourists, especially foreigners, to its vast unexplored expanse,” he added.
In order to improve the beauty of Dal lake, Mufti Sayeed said he will classify the houseboats into different categories so that the tourists get the services they have paid for. A large number of tourists from Gujarat prefer to stay in houseboats and take shikara rides in the lake.
Elaborating upon the measures being taken to facilitate the visitors this summer, Mufti Sayeed said in the aftermath of floods, the State suffered massive damage to its infrastructure, particularly roads. He said the Government is striving to improve inter-district and resort road connectivity across the State.
Stressing upon the need to increase air and rail traffic to J&K, the Chief Minister said he has taken up with Union Ministers of Railways and Civil Aviation the issue to operate more trains and flights to the State. I have requested them to allow chartered flights and night-landing facility at Jammu and Srinagar airports as well as start summer special trains like Ahmedabad-Jammu and Mumbai-Jammu to facilitate the visitors,” he said and added that better handholding by Police and Tourism personnel will be ensured at Airports, Railway stations and tourist bus terminals.
Rising air fares have been one of the major dampeners to tourist flow to the state where 70 per cent of all visitors have travelled by air in the last four months.
Stressing upon the tour operators to coordinate with their local counterparts in offering attractive family packages, Mufti Sayeed said the Government has conceptualized various add-on packages like light-and-sound shows at the famed Mughal Gardens, river cruises across Jhelum riverfront and water-rafting for the leisure and heritage tourists.
On a specific query from a tour operator about availability of vegetarian food in J&K, the Chief Minister directed MD JKTDC to set up vegetarian restaurants at all major tourist destinations so that domestic visitors have a feel of home-made food.
Describing tour operators as the most important link between the state and the visitors, Mufti Sayeed sought their support in providing full occupancy this season. “We are also working towards considerably improving our intake capacity, both at the middle and high-end level, so that better accommodation facilities are provided to the tourists in the hospitality sector,” he added.
Expressing gratitude to tour and travel players in promoting J&K during its most-troubled times, Mufti Sayeed said the State is also working to highlight its rich pilgrim, heritage and culture in the State. “We will showcase heritage sites of all the three regions so that the visitors are able to see new places of interest in the State,” he added.
The Chief Minister said he will link the Handicrafts industry with tourism so that genuine and price-tagged products are sold to the tourists during their visit to the State.
Emphasizing upon the need to promote business tourism in J&K, Minister for Finance, Dr. Haseeb A Drabu, said several packages for Corporate sector like Golf and high-end tourism will be introduced this season. He requested the media fraternity to provide space to good news emerging from J&K in the tourism sector as it is connected with every household of the State.
Speaking on the occasion, the Minister of State for Information, Education & Culture, Priya Sethi, won the hearts of the audience by speaking in Gujarati. “Having been born and brought up in Gujarat, I have received tremendous love and affection from the people of J&K for which I am thankful to them,” she added.
Commissioner /Secretary Tourism, Shailendra Kumar, gave a detailed presentation about the initiatives taken by the Tourism Department to increase tourist footfall in J&K.
MD JKTDC and Director Tourism, Kashmir, Farooq Ahmad Shah, and several representatives from tour and travel organizations of J&K also participated in the function.