With its alpine woods, pleasant climate, tall mountains, lakes, flowing streams, ski slopes, and lush valleys, Kashmir often referred to as the “Switzerland of Asia” is a natural tourism magnet. It also has many pilgrimage sites and cultural heritage with bloomy handicraft industries. The unrest in Valley due to Pak & terrorist activities have devastated the tourism sector which was of great economic potential in Jammu & Kashmir union territories provide a variety of tourism attractions, including revered religious sites, temples, and monasteries, as well as scenic valleys, lovely lakes, gardens, snow-capped mountains, and glaciers. The region is distinctive since each season has its own allure. So, it comes as no surprise that since the region’s lockdown was lifted, tourist numbers have significantly increased and Jammu & Kashmir is gradually recovering its status as one of the nation’s most popular tourist destinations. According to reports, more than 1.88 crore tourists travelled to J&K in 2022, breaking all previous records. Half of them arrived between October and December as early snowfall attracted a significant number of tourists to the area. As a result, hotel occupancy has been at an all-time high with certain resorts in Pahalgam and Gulmarg being sold out at the end of the year.
The Kashmir Valley has experienced a historic comeback of tourism, one of its primary economic drivers, for the first time since the repeal of Article 370 and the start of the COVID-19 epidemic. About 0.34 million visitors came to the Valley between January and April, giving the domestic tourism economy a much-needed boost. The Sheikh-ul-Allam International Airport handled the highest number of passengers and 102 flight operations on 11 April 2022. The revival of tourism has primarily been due to the positive changes in the political and security environment of the Valley, notwithstanding the continuance of targeted killings and intermittent acts of disturbances. The industry has already earned a windfall and the tourist season is expected to boom this year onwards. Hotel and houseboat owners are on 20 days’ notice and rates have risen by 30 to 50 percent, while taxi drivers are happily overworked after a three-year hiatus. However, the economic benefits of the tourism boom may be short-lived and will not provide a boost to rising unemployment if age-old problems such as the valley’s poor tourism infrastructure and road connectivity are not prioritized. Agriculture and horticulture, two other economic engines of the region, would also suffer from such adverse factors.
The only all-weather road that connects the geostrategic ally- critical Kashmir Valley with the Union of India is called NH44. Although considered the lifeblood of Kashmir, this 295 km highway remains closed for long periods during winter due to landslides. To cut the travel time from Srinagar to New Delhi from 10 hours to 4 hours, the Government of India undertook the work to widen it into a four-lane highway in 2011. The project was supposed to be completed in 2016, but several deadlines were missed. The four-laning of this geostrategic road was divided into six Sub-projects: Jammu-Udhampur Road (65 km), Chenani-Nashri tunnel (9.2 km), Ramban-Udhampur road widening (43 km), Banihal-Ramban road (36 km), Banihal-Ramban road (36 km), Qazigund-Banihal road (15.25 km) and Srinagar-Banihal Road (67.7 km).
Scope of tourism in J&K is better than many states of the country. There are many factors responsible for the huge potential of tourism in J&K. J&K is a popular travel destination because to its warm friendliness, extensive cultural legacy, and stunning natural surroundings. J&K is a perfect location for a number of different categories of tourism that have not yet been fully developed, such as adventure, medical, environmental, polo, and leisure travel. J&K is known
for its notable crafts like the pashmina shawl and paper machines. Cricket bat manufacturing is another prominent sector in J&K. Renowned Kashmiri food, “WAZWAN,” is a draw for visitors to the region thanks to its unparalleled flavour. The residents of J&K have extensive experience in tourism-related activities. By examining J&K tourism through a lens of strengths that can weed out flaws like unknown places, low government expenditure, subpar infrastructure, and security issues, it is clear that the industry has enormous potential.
Since tourism is primarily a private sector, it is important that the J&K board acts as a tourism promoter and not as a regulator. Infrastructure development with regard to tourism is lacking. We do not have enough space in hotels and resorts to handle the tourist rush in peak seasons, transport facilities are meagre and sanitary conditions are pathetic. So, there is a need for proper maintenance and development of infrastructure in J&K. The Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Srinagar, is playing a significant role in providing training to the locals and improving their abilities by bringing them up to par with international standards. More of these training facilities must be established so that locals working in the tourism industry, such as tour guides, cooks, and others, are properly trained and prepared to manage the influx of visitors. J&K is sometimes referred to as “Paradise Unexplored” since it has many undiscovered tourist sites. Such fresh, undiscovered, and appealing locations need continued exploration. In order for tourists to feel safe, J&K tourism needs sufficient steps to offer appropriate protection to visitors. The country should take steps to revive the traditional craft industry through new innovative methods to restore its old reputation in the international arena. All the new projects, having an impact on tourism and environment should be carried out in a sustainable way without damaging the fragile ecology of the state.
Its very clear that tourism has been a significant source of economic growth for the J&K economy for many years and will continue to be so in the future due to changes occurring on both the supply and demand sides. The development of new industries like adventure tourism, science tourism, spiritual tourism, and medical tourism has resulted in supply-side changes. Moreover, the factors which increase its scope from demand side includes change in the standard of living, rise in disposable income, late marriages, long leisure time and better education. The expansion of the tourism sector in J&K will improve economic indicators like employment, income, infrastructure, and competition, which will encourage the entry of new products into the market and, in turn, result in better services and greater satisfaction for the state’s residents as a whole.