Will make JK premiere global tourist destination: Mufti at Gulmarg Conclave

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‘Centre to fund three spiritual centres at Sgr, Jammu & Leh; Upgrade Tagore Hall, Abhinav Theatre; expedite release of Rs. 127 cr flood-related package’  

Top heads discuss strategies to promote brand tourism

GULMARG: Unfolding his vision to brand J&K as the premiere global tourist destination, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed today said his new Government, in partnership with Centre, will become an entrepreneur in tourism development, which sector offers new vistas for economic growth and employment in the State.

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The Chief Minister was speaking during a conclave on J&K Tourism at Khyber Himalayan Resorts, at Gulmarg, the State’s best known leisure spot.

Union Minister of Tourism, Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Member Parliament, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, MLA Tangmarg, Mohammad Abbas Wani, Union Secretary Tourism, Dr. Lalit K. Panwar, Commissioner/Secretary, Tourism & Culture, Shailendra Kumar, MD JKTDC, Farooq Ahmad Shah and a galaxy of reputed business, hotelier, tour and travel players participated in the conclave.

Unveiling his plans for making J&K an elite eco-tourist destination, the Chief Minister said the people will see in the next six years of the PDP-BJP Government unfolding of his dream to convert J&K into a cherished tourist destination, having achieved global benchmarks in all defined categories.

Describing J&K tourism as a perfect vehicle that only needs a good driver, the Chief Minister said the new Government will put the State firmly on the pedestal of global benchmarks. “The prime objective is to improve the economy of the state and provide gainful employment to people, who are the principle stakeholders,” he added.

Welcoming the country’s top tourism players at Gulmarg, Mufti Sayeed said the idea behind this conclave is to give an opportunity to all the participants to share their vision of how to promote, package and market J&K as a high-end tourist destination. He said similar conclaves will be held at Patnitop and Leh shortly. “It is important to gel Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh as one entity. Only then will we be able to connect with the rest of the country. I am happy the new Governments in J&K and New Delhi offers us that opportunity,” he stated.

Expressing concern over the skyrocketing air fares towards peak tourist season, the Chief Minister requested the Union Tourism Minister, who also holds the charge of Civil Aviation Ministry, to explore operating Srinagar-Jeddah flights for facilitating Umrah pilgrims. He also urged the Union Minister to consider operating additional flights on Delhi-Srinagar, Delhi-Jammu and Delhi-Leh circuits to counter costly air fares. “We are taking up with concerned authorities the issue of starting night landing facilities at both Srinagar and Jammu airports to increase footfall of tourists,” he added.

Reiterating his commitment to promote business with ease, the Chief Minister said he had already announced a ‘Single Window’ for speedy environmental and other statutory clearances to facilitate flow of private investment in high-end tourism sector projects. “We are committed to reducing regulatory complexities and costs apart from easing bureaucratic barriers,” he said and added that till the master-plans are finalized, the Government will explore increasing eco-friendly intake capacity by resorting to tented accommodation and eco-cottages.

Referring to the strong beginning the PDP-BJP Government has made in the State, the Chief Minister said J&K is at the cusp of change and his new Government will channelize the collective energies of the three distinct regions for building on peace dividends through a concerted development effort, particularly in the tourism sector.

Referring to the opportunities the State offers in skiing, heli-skiing, mountaineering, trekking, water sports and ropeways, the Chief Minister also unveiled his plans to promote J&K as a major golf destination. “We already have a golf circuit.  We wish to package J&K as a golfing destination.  We shall provide chopper facilities between Royal Spring Golf Course at Srinagar and Pahalgam and Gulmarg golf courses which I am sure will do wonders in sports tourism,” he said and added that feasibility checks are being done for laying new golf courses in Sanasar, Sonamarg and Yusmarg.

Raising the issue of much-needed infrastructure upgradation at Gulmarg, Patnitop, Pahalgam and Sonamarg, Mufti Sayeed said the Government is planning to improve road connectivity in a big way so that city-resort networks are improved considerably,” he added.

To promote upmarket tourism, Chief Minister announced chopper sorties for high-end visitors to Bangus Valley, an eco-fragile but equally breathtaking destination. He said the plan to develop Mantalai as an international Yoga destination has already been set into motion.

Highlighting the potential that tourism sector offers in creation of job opportunities for a range of people from shikarawalas to those working in hotels and hospitality sectors, the Chief Minister said rebooting the sector will provide countless job opportunities for the skilled youth in the State.

Speaking on the occasion, the Union Tourism Minister said the Central Government is committed to provide all assistance to the development of tourism sector in the State. He announced three circuits for Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh divisions under the new Government of India scheme named Swadesh Darshan. Under this scheme, the Union Government will fund Shankaracharya -Chatti Padshahi-Hazratbal-Chrar-e-Sharief Spiritual Circuit, State-of-the-art Yoga Centre at Mantalai, Jammu and Leh Buddhist Spiritual Centre in Ladakh. He said the Central Government will also begin restoration of its three properties of ITDC Hotel at Gulmarg, Centaur Lakeview Hotel at Srinagar and Ashoka Hotel at Jammu. ”These three properties will become symbol of J&K in tourism sector very shortly,” he asserted.

Assuring the State Government about releasing Rs. 127 crore package for restoring the properties damaged in September floods of 2014, Dr. Sharma, who also holds the charge of the Culture Ministry, said the Central Government will also provide financial assistance to restore Tagore Hall at Srinagar and Abhinav Theatre at Jammu to its pristine glory.

Referring to the issue of upgrading Jammu & Srinagar airports, the Union Tourism Minister said the Centre will examine the technical and security-related  issues and take a decision on starting additional flights to Srinagar, Jammu and Leh very shortly. He further said that the Central Government will also explore possibility of starting at least one or two international flights from Srinagar International Airport.

A galaxy of hoteliers, tour and travel operators like Deepak Haskar from ITC, Mushtaq Chaya from Kashmir Hoteliers’ Club, Sheikh Ashiq from KCC&I, Dr. Ranjan Jaitely from Cox & Kings, Navin Behri from SATTE, Rakesh Mathur from CJ Hotels and Resorts, Rajesh Gupta from Tourism Federation Jammu, Sudhanshu Hakoo from Location Bollywood as well as representatives from Raja Rani, KHARA, KHAROF and other tour travel organizations from all over the country shared their views on the occasion.

Earlier, the Chief Minister, along with Union Tourism Minister, inaugurated the Helicopter Service for heli-sightseeing and sorties to Srinagar Airport. The chopper service will also operate paid sorties from Gulmarg to Mount Apharwat, Sunshine Peak and Tosa Maidan.

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