The Srinagar Airport was accorded the status of an International Airport in 2010, however since then no serious effort was made by any successive government to get the airport on the international map.
The direct Hajj and Dubai flights were initially operated for some time but the service too was discontinued. Now that the state government is contemplating to initiate direct flights to ASEAN region as the Chief Minister has written to the Union Aviation Ministry seeking approval for the same, is a welcome step.
The Union aviation Ministry is planning to operate flights to the ASEAN region from various airports which are operating in India. Therefore, the Chief Minister has written a letter to the Union Civil Aviation Minister seeking operation of flights to and from ASEAN region to Srinagar airport.
This move has come after the tourism players persuaded the Chief Minister to take up the issue with the Union Ministry so that tourism in the state would get a flip if the service becomes a reality.
Given the earlier response the state government got from the Air India officials when the Dubai flight launched after much fanfare by the then UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in May 2009 was grounded, it seems that any major change is least expected.
The earlier flight that ran directly from Srinagar to Dubai was cancelled as the airline reasoned that it was not a profitable venture and hence no international flights can be operated from Srinagar. The airlines have been citing the low passenger ration which should have been around 200 per flight. But given the experiences the passenger ratio never touched around 60.
But the tourism players say that there is huge scope for starting international flights especially on Srinagar-Dubai and Srinagar-South East Asia sectors. The recent meetings of the tourism players with the Chief Minister centered around this very argument that the direct flights to these regions can turn the tables around for tourism sector.
Tourism sector in the state, though a major contributor towards the economic up-liftment of the people, has been on the receiving end from the past three years. The tourism arrivals owing to the disturbed conditions here have been an all time low with very few booking being witnessed even during the winter tourism season that began here with the first snowfall being observed this week.
Tourism promotion can no doubt receive an impetus if direct flights to the middle east or even the ASEAN region can become operational, but for this a well planned ground work needs to be done first.
The people associated with tourism trade and the tourism department needs to run a well organized awareness campaign to attract tourists to Kashmir from these regions.
This will serve two purposes, first the airlines will get a profitable deal and second the tourists who plan to come to Kashmir but have been avoiding it given the tardy travel plan can be wooed to come and enjoy the serenity of Kashmir.