In a meet organised in the city, tourism officials of J&K and city-based tour operators discussed how in the past one year, tourism business has been affected by the ongoing unrest in the Valley. While nearly 50 tour operators attended the meet, the J&K tourism officials included Jenab Farooq Shah, Secretary, Tourism, J&K government; Mahmud Ahmad Shah, Director, Tourism, Kashmir; and Shamim Wani, Managing Director of Cable Car Operators Association, J&K.

The meet was organised by city-based NGO Sarhad that works for the people from the border regions afflicted by violence, through socio-cultural and literary means. The aim of organising the meet, said Sanjay Nahar, founder of Sarhad, was “to bring people closer to Kashmir and its locals.”

Every year, thousands of pilgrims visit holy shrines of Vaishno Devi and Amarnath. Last season saw nearly one crore tourists visiting Vaishno Devi and 10 lakh people visiting Amarnath. Other popular destinations of the region, include Gulmarg and Ladakh. However, ever since tension has erupted in the Valley, the tourism business has been hit hard, stressed the tour operators. They also echoed that due to the unrest in the Valley, many travellers have cancelled their bookings. They also pointed out that the customers complained because of not getting refund of their booking amount, which becomes a hassle due to rules of J&K tourism.

While speaking with the tour operators, Farooq said, “The only solution for instability in the Valley is to give boost to its tourism business. So far, not even a single incident has happened in which any tourist has been harmed or affected due to the violence in the region.”

During the meet, Mahmud shared a presentation with the tour operators which displayed clips of local Kashmiris helping tourists. “In one of the incidents, a tourist, who was taking a shikara ride, happened to fall in the lake. Within minutes, the locals ran for his help and saved him from drowning. Likewise, in another incident, a family was on a tour in Kashmir and had met with an accident. The locals immediately rushed to help them and took them to the hospital. Hospitality is in the blood of Kashmiris,” said Mahmud.

The officials also pointed out to the operators that in order to pull tourists, the J&K government was taking steps to promote various popular events like shikara festival, snow carnival, snow rugby, snow cricket, tulip festival and so on.

In order to popularise the Valley music among Puneites, Sarhad organised a cultural programme titled “Dard-e-Kashmir” on Saturday that saw performances by Kashmiri musicians such as Shafi Sopori and Shamina Akhtar.