Tour and Travel operators of Maharashtra, Gujarat in association with Tourism Department had recently organized a joint session in Mumbai to deliberate on promoting tourism in the country. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was also invited to this meeting. Like her late father, she is also showing keen interest in developing tourism in the State. In J&K all the three regions have tourist destinations. Kashmir valley is well-known for tourism from the days of the British Raj. But Ladakh came into prominence as a tourist resort only after the independence. Despite publicity, much remains to be done to make it really attractive for world tourists. About Jammu region, only lately tourist spots have been identified and brought under tourism development schemes. Hopefully in due course of time new tourist destinations in different parts of Jammu region will be developed.
Tourism in our State has assumed a new dimension with good prospects for the future. It is pilgrimage tourism. Two spots have been identified as great attraction for pilgrim tourists namely the cave shrines of Mata Vaishno Devi in district Reasi in Jammu region and Shri Amarnath Shrine in Kashmir. The number of pilgrim tourists visiting Mata Vaishno Devi has crossed one crore a year, and the holy cave of Shri Amarnath is visited at least by 3 lakh people. This huge number of pilgrim tourists is drawn from all the four parts of the country besides many from foreign countries. As both of the shrines are located atop mountains, the pilgrims enjoy the scenic beauty of snow clad mountains, lush green meadows, streams of pure water and unpolluted air. Shrine Boards of both shrines have provided many facilities to the pilgrims.
State Tourism Department has been trying to regularly update the facilities that tourists need when on a tour of the picnic sites in the State. A large number of people in Kashmir and Ladakh are involved in tourist industry and they earn their daily bread through this source. That is why tourism is considered as an important source of the economy of the State. It is advisable that we diversify our tourism so that Kashmir tour becomes really a memorable event in the life of the tourists. It has to be remembered that a number of activities are closely connected with tourism like transport industry, houseboat industry, handicrafts industry, hiking and mountaineering enterprises etc. Previously, the Tourism Department mostly took the foreign tourists as the mainstay of the industry but in recent years we have seen that more and more of indigenous tourists are visiting the State for tour and for knowing this northern part of the country. Since the economy of the people has improved considerably and the ability to spend has increased phenomenally, the number of tourists is swelling year after year.
However, our tourist industry has received a setback owing to the unrest that gripped the Valley of Kashmir for almost the entire summer of 2016. The worst sufferers of the unrest and turmoil were the ordinary people associated with tourist industry like daily wagers, petty shopkeepers, cabmen and transporters, houseboat owners and more particularly those involved in handicraft business. Thousands of households depending on tourist industry were face to face with financial crunch. Although the Government did extend some help to those who were seriously affected by non-appearance of tourists yet that was only help and not regular income. Therefore, the pre-requisite of good tourist season in Kashmir is peace and tranquillity. It is up to the people themselves to understand the need of peace for tourism.
Diversification of entertainment for the tourists is of much importance and benefit to the State and its people. It is a brilliant idea to introduce water games for tourists and two spots, namely the Jhelum River boating trips in the Valley and boating in Ranjit Sagar Dam close to Kathua could be contemplated and developed. Likewise, thousands of tourists are interested in water sports for which places like Gulmarg have been developed and improved. In summing up, our State has strong potential for developing more tourist spots and upgrading the entire tourist industry as is often said by the Chief Minister.