As Kashmir begins to cast off winter’s mantle and gear up for the coming seasons, the state government needs to take a hard look at the performance of the tourism sector – not in terms of numbers or the bottom-line of profit, but in terms of the quality of services and facilities available. Authorities must take special note of hotel capacity, the demand thereof, and juxtapose the two with arrivals to prevent a repeat of large numbers being left without accommodation.
A strong note of caution is necessary amid the euphoria of a short succession of booming summers. If tour operators, houseboat owners, hoteliers and others involved in the tourist trade fail to put their heads together with the government for a fair and realistic idea of the infrastructure available, and plan bookings and travel accordingly, the next season could well be one of chaos rather than of satisfaction. Fire-fighting with short-sighted measures like incentives for turning private residences into temporary guesthouses is fraught with complications the valley could do without.
Several initiatives were taken after 1996 to revive tourism: loans were announced for boatmen, there were steps for waiving interest on loans taken by hoteliers and houseboat owners. Substantial financial assistance was also announced for some hoteliers for renovation, and a publicity campaign of sorts undertaken to kick-start the industry. But when the ground situation showed no signs of a significant improvement for long, the tourism sector failed to get really going. But of late, the scenario in terms of arrivals has been markedly different, and has promptly been turned into political propaganda.
With hopes that the calm will hold, future projections for the industry depend in large measure on the bureaucracy as well. Should the tempo of the trade sustain, the sector must not be allowed to turn into a vested interest for sections of this lucky class whose past veterans have a history of running departments as fiefdoms. Such performance makes for strong inspiration, particularly in cultures steeped in traditions not only of on-the-sly riches, manufactured reputations and political clout, but also of initiating processes with long-term ramifications. Heavy responsibility lies on the sections of the government machinery involved with tourism. On what lines this trade evolves in the coming years depends on those framing policy.