A good season for Kashmir hospitality industry

Srinagar: If you were planning to visit Kashmir this summer, you might have missed the bus as hotels across popular tourist destinations in the valley are fully booked till the end of this season.

According to industry estimates, the tourist arrivals in the valley can break the all-time record and more than 20 lakh visitors are expected this year. "As Kashmir remained peaceful last summer, the response from intending tourists has been tremendous. It is hard to get bookings in star-category hotels," Mohammad Umar, a travel agent, said.

The participation of tourism players in various fairs across the country during the winter has played an important role in the unusually high bookings for this year, he said. "The travel trade players from rest of the country have also helped as they have been selling Kashmir as a destination like they used to do before 1990 (eruption of militancy)," he said.

Even high-end hotels like the Taj Vivanta and Lalit Palace, located on banks of Dal Lake, are expecting a packed summer. "I had to make advance payment in January for booking a room in one of these two hotels for a guest arriving in April," Burhaan Yaqoob, a travel agent, said.

On its part, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) has urged the state government to take steps to ensure that visitors leave with a good impression.

In a memorandum to the state government, the KCCI has asked authorities for ensuring sanitation and hygiene in the city and smooth movement of traffic during the peak season, while also urging taxi drivers to wear uniforms with name badges.

Minister of State for Tourism Nasir Aslam Wani yesterday chaired a high-level meeting to take stock of arrangements. "We had a successful tourist season last year and will pool in efforts and put in place a joint mechanism to ensure better results this year," he said after the meeting.

A `Quick Response Mechanism` will be put in place, he said, adding that "hassle-free arrivals of tourists at Jammu and Srinagar Airports and entry points at Lakhanpur and Lower Munda will be ensured so that tourists are not made to wait for long hours."

The Tourism Department will coordinate with airline carriers to shorten the stay of visitors at the airport after their arrival, he said.

Free porters will be engaged for shifting of luggage and two more buses will be operationalised for luggage transit from the first drop airport gate to the terminal, Wani said. He also asked private players to identify people indulging in fleecing or cheating and said "by doing this, a bad name is given to the entire tourism fraternity of the state."

Meanwhile, Director Tourism Kashmir, Farooq Ahmad Shah, has warned of stern action against those "black sheep" in the hospitality sector who are bringing it bad name through unethical practices.