SRINAGAR: At a time when tourism is being advertised as the “backbone” of Kashmir economy, hoteliers in the Valley have been practicing what goes against the grain of hospitality industry.
Hoteliers allow tour groups to take over kitchens in their hotels, where tour managers employ their own non-local chefs who cook meals for the guests.
In fact, the tour groups bring their own supply of vegetables, spices, oil, tea, milk, cereals and even gas cylinders from various Indian states.
“The only things they buy from local markets are chicken or mutton once in a blue moon. They would have bought these items too from their native places if these had longer shelf life,” said Mohammad Amin, a waiter at a restaurant in a hotel along Boulevard.
Farooq Kuthoo, general secretary of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir, termed the practice “an absolute disgrace”.
“This happens only in Kashmir. This system will affect our tourism industry as most of revenue is generated from food and beverages. Accommodation forms only a small fraction of total earnings from tourists,” says Farooq.
Tourists, on the other hand, say food in Kashmiri hotels and restaurants is expensive, largely non-vegetarian and the menus don’t suit their food habits.
“There are limited food options here. Moreover, people here eat spicy food which we are not used to. And we are used to eating a lot of sweets,” said Vidhya, a Gujarati tourist who is on a 15-day-tour along with 30 other members.
Farooq Kuthoo said the practice of ‘self-catering’ didn’t exist even 20 years ago, when Indian cuisine hardly had any imprint on Kashmiri hospitality industry.
“Today, you can find dosas and other dishes at so many places. And hotels are not costly. A three-star hotel room costs Rs 5000 per night, including food, in peak season. It would cost Rs 2500 or less off season,” he added.
Director tourism Mahmood Ahmad Shah said the trend could be stopped if hotels serve various kinds of cuisine.
“But right now we are going through a phase where we cannot dictate terms to tourists as we have suffered a lot due to 2014 floods. All we can do is to ensure that tourists buy much many items as they can from here so that the government can earn taxes,” Shah said.
“Private hotel owners should also engage more chefs,” he added.