It appears that top government officials undergo regular training sessions on how to explain glaring contradictions in official policies. In a phenomenon apparently unique to Kashmir, tourists convert three-star hotels into a makeshift camp, where they cook, wash, dry underwear on hotel balconies and eat and sleep. The official explanation of this phenomenon is interesting. After the 2014 flood, tourist inflow into the Valley dropped sharply and therefore we are not in a position to dictate terms to tourists for now, says the director of tourism department. These remarks are either deliberately misleading or the director is not aware that this phenomenon has been in vogue much before the 2014 floods.
A couple of months ago the director told the media that the Valley expects a record number of tourists this year and his department is fully equipped to welcome tourists as the damaged tourist infrastructure has been restored. At the same time, his casual dismissal of the phenomenon of tour groups hiring Valley hotels like chawls of Mumbai belies his confident claims about massive tourist arrivals. Hotels are not charity inns but businesses. If they suffered during floods, they have every right to earn but not at the cost of established business practices. One can hazard a guess that the tourism promotion exercises conducted by the tourism department in various Indian cities have lured people with the promise that Kashmir hotels can be used the way they like.
How will Kashmir be benefited if a million tourists come from India and bring along everything, from paan masala to washing powder? It might appear expedient to let Kashmir hoteliers rent out even their kitchens to tour groups but what about the people who have taken loans to buy vehicles in anticipation of tourist arrivals but hopelessly watch big tourist buses ferry visitors to Pahalgam and Gulmarg? Not to talk of other states, where businessmen can go to the extent of violence if transporters from other states ply their vehicles, in Kashmir division’s Ladakh region, locals do not, and rightly so, allow any vehicle except their own to ferry tourists.
The view that tourism is more a counterinsurgency effort than a business activity gets strengthened by such policies. At a time when half the government’s efforts go into promoting tourism as a panacea for Kashmir’s ills, degrading hospitality by allowing such practices will kill the confidence of tourism players.