The global tourism industry was devastated by the Covid pandemic recording a backbreaking dip in business as well as leisure travel spending. As the industry struggled to recover, there was also great uncertainty about how the so-named new normal could transform the demand for travel and recreation, and holidays. The valleys tourism sector was no exception. It was hit even harder as the security scenario remained disturbed for a long time even before the arrival of Covid. Domestic and international travel restrictions, together with health concerns, resulted in severe impacts on valley tourism with a huge loss of billions in distressing job losses and even business closures bringing a spotlight to the economic and social value of tourism to the valley's economy.
However, the post Covid tourism scenario in the Kashmir valley has been very encouraging. Valley witnessed a huge tourist influx right from the beginning of the winter. The picture got better as the chilly winter slowly melted into the warm spring. The heavy footfall of tourists during winter and spring infused a new lease of life into the ailing tourist industry which was struggling to keep afloat after the onslaught of Covid and the subsequent lockdowns and travel restrictions. The tourism department deserves kudos as its officials pulled up their socks and set out to the task of bringing back tourists as soon as the Covid restrictions began to ease up. Their relentless efforts to promote the valley as the best post-Covid refreshment deal bore immediate fruit and the valley came alive with the arrival of tourists from across the country. If the current scenario is any indicator, we should look forward to a fulsome tourist season during the upcoming summer.
Kashmir Valley has several unique features to its credit. People all across the globe acknowledge that Kashmir isn't just beautiful—it's stunningly so. Its natural beauty is an infinite treasure with its pristine freshwater lakes and springs, including scores of high altitude ones, numerous silvery streams and brooks , vast expanses of lush green enchanting meadows, the several ranges of majestic snow-capped mountains, and widespread pine packed green belts and forests make it truly one of the best vacation destination in the world. It is full of beautiful upcountry that comforts our physical and emotional senses. The beauty of the valley is somehow immortal, infinite, and eternal and is the perfect reflection of the art of Allah Almighty. The stunning beauty across the countryside gives a heavenly definition to the valley. The tall pine trees that flourish on the slopes of mountains and deep in the forests sooth up the tired and thirsty travelers.
Valley has endless treasures of beauty in the form of various beautiful living creatures. It is home to diversified flocks of colorful birds, unique forest animals, and fish, and millions of species of all kinds, in size and color, on the earth, in the sky, and in the water. They are everywhere and at all times. They adorn the environment by simply being there. The joy of beauty is eternal happiness so the effect of that beauty on the mind is always healthy and positive that will never end. Valleys beauty is spread across its length and breadth and the human eye is always in contact with this exquisiteness. Nature has been ever kind to preserve its unmatched beauty even during harsh environmental situations.
Bestowed with such an abundance of breathtaking scenic beauty, pleasantly clement summers, and snow-filled winters, Kashmir becomes one of the best preferences in tourist destinations. Hence most of the tourism infrastructure has been developed to support the industry visa viz these natural resources. The valley is greatly influenced by a tourism development policy that essentially promotes the area as a mass-tourism destination supplying various tourism packages. However there are other segments of tourism such as eco-tourism, cultural tourism, adventure tourism, and health tourism which have very good potential, but they are still undeveloped and underestimated in the area. Bleisure travelers are an emerging group in the tourism market – those primarily traveling for business, but staying on for leisure. Valley would be a great choice for corporate meetings and conferences which are often followed by a couple of days of recreation. The economic significance of the tourism sector to Kashmir and its growth agenda is absolute. Tourism’s share of the valley's economy is much above most of the other sectors like agriculture, fruit, fishing, or handicrafts. A substantial chunk of the population across the valley is directly or indirectly associated with the industry. While contributing to Brand Kashmir, the industry solidifies our identity and image as one of the best vacation places across the world.
Even as the beauty of the valley is spread across its length and breadth, its tourism infrastructure is still largely confined to Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonamarg, and Mughal gardens. There are scores of less known but extremely exquisitely beautiful areas in the valley which have a huge potential of becoming equally important tourist destinations. The department is required to explore and develop such newer destinations to enhance the overall potential of tourism in the valley. The government has initiated steps to develop some of them and various development authorities, like in Doodh Pathri, Yusmarg, and Bangus valley to name a few have been created to develop and promote them, but not much developmental process is visible in any of the places. Notwithstanding all the efforts of the tourism stakeholders and associations, private sector, and local communities, in promoting and propagating tourism development in such places, the need exists for several activities to be pursued and infrastructure to be developed further. Community-based sustainable development could be considered as a pre-condition for the future tourism development of the region. Transport, public utilities, convenient road connectivity, hotels, eateries, parking, and recreational facilities must take top priority slots on the agenda of authorities to exploit and enhance the tourism potential of these places.
Tourism is a broad service sector requiring a wide range of simple and complex facilities and services and the development of infrastructure to support it. Infrastructure as one important factor in tourism development must be prioritized by tourism planners to increase the number of visitors. As the economy of the valley moves around tourism, we need to increase the competitive abilities of local stakeholders. The department must ensure the management of all resources in such a way that the economic, social, and aesthetic needs of all stakeholders are fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support systems.
The tourism product is composed of the elements like assets, both natural and developmental which are the factors of attraction of the tourism destination which determines the choice of the tourist in its favor. Normally, a tourism destination has different assets such as natural, historic-architectural, socio-cultural, gastronomic, and infrastructural. A balanced combination of these assets makes the holiday more attractive and interesting, and memorable. The different characteristics and requirements of the several tourism segments have to be taken into account by the tourism suppliers to organize a competitive tourism supply. The accessibility of the tourist destination has to be assured by both the infrastructures and the organized transport towards the area. The easiness of access to the tourism destination makes the commercialization and attraction of the tourism product easier.
The services provided by local or even national operators to make the tourism assets of the tourism destination available to the tourism demand are of huge significance. They are public services like public transport, environmental hygiene, safety, sanitary service, etc., and private services like accommodation, customer service, airport and rail transfer service, tourist guides, animator staff, entertainment, car, and bike rental services, events, and festivals, etc. which are the vital components of the modern tourist industry. In modern tourism strategies, such services are very important to specialize in a particular tourism destination following the particular needs of the targeted tourism segments.
Information is very important for tourism because it permits the connection between the holiday motivations of the tourist and the tourism assets of the destination. It provides the knowledge of the tourism assets and creates a desired image of the tourism assets to influence the tourist choice and creates value addition to the tourism supply. Such reforms will no doubt spark investments in hotels and other business expenditures. One can always hope to reap the benefits from positive policy changes coupled with increased investments in the sector that have made the Kashmir Valley a preferred attractive destination for tourists.
Conclusion: Tourism is one of the most potential sources of income for the valley and has an important role in building the economy. The sector needs to be developed into world-class tourism package because it has the beauty of nature, diverse cultural richness, and a population whose character and morality support the convenience of tourists visiting. There is room for optimism as the tourists have started returning after a long pause and we can expect continued growth over the years yielding huge economic benefits to the valley’s tourism sector.
Box: There is room for optimism as the tourists have started returning after a long pause and we can expect continued growth over the years yielding huge economic benefits to the valley’s tourism sector