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Thursday, 19 April, 2018, 10 : 24 AM [IST]

Regaining Paradise

disha The perceptions about Kashmir that we have and the experience I had during my recent visit to the destination are diametrically opposite. After witnessing the situation first hand, I realised that it is a clear case of absence of a collective image-building approach when it comes to the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Every supplier in the tourism chain I interacted there is worried about the adverse effect on the destination because of the ‘problem of perception’. The various stakeholders and associations that claim to be the torch-bearers of the industry seem to have neglected this issue for long. The fact that the Jammu & Kashmir government requested a travel trade association to organise their annual convention in the state, and went the extra mile to even finance this activity to a large extent is a testimony to the fact that the establishment is desperate to bring tourism back to where it belongs in the erstwhile superpower of Indian Tourism. Thus, it is the failure of the stakeholders at large to send out the right message about the situation on ground about the state that a destination termed as ‘Paradise on Earth’ is now yearning for tourists.

Putting things into perspective, one should understand that incidents of terror and unrest are not restricted to Kashmir alone. In fact, major gateway cities and tourist destinations across the world have been victims of gory incidents in the past few years. However, their state machinery and the private stakeholders within that territory have been effectively disseminating the right message of safety and security. Such measures are efforts to instill confidence among the people and keep the momentum going. Take the example of France, despite unpleasant incidents the destination continues to be a sought-after choice, and has maintained its rank among the top 3 tourist destinations globally. This has been possible because of the timely intervention and concerted effort of all concerned. This is exactly the same approach required from the members of the travel trade bodies in India to speak in one voice and underline the need about the importance of tourism for global peace, trade and travel. The consumers of the tourism products and experiences even today heavily rely on word of mouth and advice from the ‘travel experts’ despite advancement of technology. However, industry bodies can deploy social media channels effectively to drive home the message about the safety of a destination instead of using the platforms for creating just a ‘likeable’ audience.

The message about Jammu & Kashmir is clear from the Chief Minister herself that there is a problem in the state in select areas, and they require hand-holding from the industry and the country at large. However, terming the entire state as unsafe is nowhere close to the truth. One needs to visit and experience first-hand to know the real picture, and the safety record for travellers, including women which is far better than many destinations in India. In fact, someone rightly pointed out that the presence of security personnel is far more reassuring about the intent of protecting the tourist rather than being interpreted as intimidating. It is therefore time to wake up to the virtue of promoting tourism as a tool for peace. While this approach shouldn’t be restricted to Kashmir alone, one can definitely use the destination as a launch pad to drive the message of collective responsibility.

Disha Shah Ghosh
Chief Sub-Editor
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