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October 10, 2012

Picturesque Kashmir attracts foreign tour operators

     Srinagar: Tourist operators from across the world visited Srinagar with an aim to promote the ‘Paradise on Earth’ and to make an on the spot assessment of prominent destinations in Jammu and Kashmir. The Department of Tourism has invited the operators to dispel the notion about law and order situation in the valley. More than thirty tour delegates from various countries, including China, Thailand, South Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, Spain, Belgium and United Kingdom visited the valley, and they felt that Kashmir is one of the best tourist destinations in world.

The main purpose of their visit was to boost the tourism sector in the valley and spread the message throughout the world that there has been some improvement in Kashmir . A tour operator from Jammu and Kashmir , Nasir Ahmad Shah, said that tourist operators could conduct an on the spot assessment of destinations and they could also promote Kashmir aggressively as a tourist hub.

“Definitely, having been in this tourism trade for the last 33 years, whenever we have organised anything along with the Department of Tourism or the travel trade has organized trips for various tour operators from different countries, it has definitely yielded benefits for the tourism industry here,” said Shah. “It is a first information campaign, when they go back home, they have first information assessment that this place, not only from the security point of view, but what exactly does this place have to offer? It makes selling very easy for them, so it is very important for all tour operators, whenever they think of selling Kashmir aggressively, they must pay a visit to see for themselves the facilities and infrastructure development?,” he added.

The influx of tourists has increased in the last few years, due to the normalcy in the valley. The state tourism department is hopeful that these operators would return to their home countries and depict a positive image about the valley. Another tourist operator from South Africa, Shikha Mahajan, said she had earlier come as a tourist and she could clearly view the transition from then to now. “Like I mentioned in my introductory speech, that I was here before, and I was here as a tourist. Now, I am here as an official tour operator. It is a complete transformation, and I think this is important to tell the world because tour operators are the ones who are the actual stepping stones from here,” said Mahajan.

“So, I am very impressed with the changes and I think it has been raised to international standards and I am definitely going to make an earnest effort to promote Kashmir aggressively from now on,” she added. Tourism is one of the biggest means of earning for the people of the province. It is said that 60 percent of Kashmiris bank on tourism. Kashmir was once a top Asian tourism destination, popular among honeymooners, skiers, trekkers and anglers, and attracting about a million tourists a year until 1989, when a simmering anger against New Delhi 's rule burst into a violent rebellion. And the numbers of visitors shrunk to only a few thousand a year.

Tourism returned in force to Kashmir in 2005 as violence fell after India and Pakistan began a peace process. Some 600,000 people visited the scenic region, most of them Indians. But numbers dropped again since 2008 after massive anti-India protests broke out in the region. However, both the federal and the provincial governments are taking steps to develop the province as recently radio taxi service had commenced and automated teller machine (ATM) was also set up in the border area.

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