(Mr. Fida Iqbal, 49, was born in Sopore. He attended the D.A.V. School in Nayadyaar, Rainawari, and the Government Higher Secondary School in Sopore. He obtained his Bachelor's degree in Agriculture/Floriculture and Landscaping from Chowdhry Chottu Ram College at Muzaffarabad Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Iqbal works with the Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Department as a landscape architect. He enjoys kitchen gardening, reading writing, and is very a passionate and dedicated golf player.)
Prefer Quality to Quantity and See Tourism Flourish
Many experts and analysts do not consider tourism as one of the major resources of Kashmir economy. However on ground the picture is not depressing. Along with hospitality sector Kashmir’s handicraft trade also gets advantage of good tourist traffic. Kashmir has a long history of tourism and British were the pioneers and patrons of organized tourist trade in Kashmir. They introduced tourism on professional lines and trained local people to handle almost every field of hospitality. Prior to1947 major part of our tourist traffic comprised of foreigners and very few Indians. After independence this sector flourished but not in proportion to world tourism scenario. Even after many shortfalls in infrastructure, Kashmir always attracted considerable share of tourist traffic; both national and international. During height of unrest when every aspect of life and trade in Kashmir was almost dull, a fair amount of tourism activity was visible; no doubt confined to few selected pockets. After bad patches of 2009 and 2010, since summer of 2011 we are experiencing a explosion on tourism front and record number of tourists is visiting Kashmir. For statistical purpose it is a boom but otherwise for ecologically fragile Kashmir it is ecocide. Without exaggeration, the present huge influx of tourists is a situation of confusion and mess. Particularly for last several weeks with the commencement of Amarnath yatra the situation has turned chaotic. Hundreds of passenger buses and other vehicles carrying yatries have added to existing traffic disorder, blocking the Jammu Srinagar highway very often and congesting other prominent roads.
The existing confusion, manifestation of over-exploitation of tourism potential is taking its toll on many fronts and tragic death of scores of Yatries during this year is the result of huge influx of Amarnath bound pilgrim tourists. However, at this point of time neither the government nor the stakeholders of tourist trade can be held responsible for huge and unorganized tourist influx because for last more than a decade we tried every ploy to attract tourists and assure them about safety and congenial atmosphere within the state. May be our approach to restore tourist traffic was overenthusiastic and misplaced and is now proving counterproductive in many ways—ecocide most likely. To rectify the faults we need to review our strategy and policies strictly in accordance with our existing tourism infrastructure a fragile Eco-system of the state.
While entertaining huge number of visitors no hospitality sector can maintain quality service and control on tariff and other regulatory matters. The practice of inflated rates and poor service, an outcome of unrestricted and poor quality tourist traffic will bring bad name to much regarded generosity element attributed to tourism sector in Kashmir for decades. Heaven forbid, if some natural calamity or disaster occurs during peak tourist season, are we prepared to handle such situation? Even a medical emergency of some bigger magnitude will expose the level of our preparedness. And this proved right when the apex court of the country had to take cognizance of large number of deaths during Amarnath yatra—prestigious annual pilgrim tourist event in Kashmir. The explanation sought by the honorable court is a virtual stricture against the authorities and no sensible authority can treat itself absolved by merely filing the status report on the issue. Authorities should treat yatra deaths as a wake-up call for overall preparedness in handling such rush of tourist traffic.
Every Kashmiri would love to see the valley abuzz with tourist activity but overcrowding just for the sake of being mentioned as safe and potential tourist destination will not only be unfair but ultimately disastrous as well. Prominent tourist destinations like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and few other places presently look like overcrowded urban centers with huge vehicular traffic and big crowds. If the level and quality of tourist traffic remains same for next couple of seasons, these prominent tourist destinations will either fade away from the tourist map of Kashmir or will turn into degraded slums. While welcoming efforts of authorities and tourist trade people to reinstall confidence among both national and international tourists, now is the time to consider putting cap on tourist traffic strictly in accordance with our infrastructural facilities, bearing capacity of our ecosystem and our preparedness to cater to the genuine and quality demands of tourists. This ‘mad tourism’ will lead us nowhere; it will neither sustain our tourist trade for long nor will it help in maintaining our tourism exclusiveness. This is high time to deliberate upon the health of our tourism sector and stick to internationally acclaimed tourism mantra of ‘preferring quality over quantity’.