Jammu & Kashmir makes strong pitch at Singapore tourism show

October 26th, 2008 - 2:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Singapore, Oct 26 (IANS) Long ruled out as a tourist destination because of the unmitigated violence and political turmoil, India’s Jammu and Kashmir state is trying to come back to normalcy with its bid to court foreign tourists. The state made a strong pitch to woo tourists at the just-concluded three-day ITB Asia show in Singapore.Indeed, many Indian and foreign experts were saying in Singapore that Jammu and Kashmir state has “excellent potential” to attract tourism if the state can have some normalcy and there is no major political upheaval in the state.

The ITB Asia show, making its first appearance in Singapore, is the Asian edition of the ITB Berlin, the world’s largest tourism fair organized by Messe Berlin.

Farooq Shah and Sarita Chauhan - both are directors in the state’s ministry of tourism, with the former responsible for promoting tourism to Kashmir and Ladakh, and the latter to Jammu - were jointly promoting the state’s tourism sector, as a steady stream of visitors flowed to their stand.

“Not many people know that in 2007, Kashmir & Ladakh attracted 1.1 million tourists, including 60,000 foreigners, mainly, from Malaysia, Taiwan, Germany and the USA. Jammu attracted 7.5 million visitors, mainly pilgrims from all over India,” Shah said in an interview with IANS.

Shah also “put into perspective” the security situation in Kashmir. “Despite the turmoil in Kashmir, no domestic or foreign tourist was targeted,” he stressed, adding that the “civil-war situation in Sri Lanka or Lebanon was worse than in Kashmir”.

Shah described Kashmir as a “paradise for golfers”, citing the Royal Springs Golf Course and the Gulmarg Golf Course as “amongst the world’s best golfing courses”.

The controversial Article 370 of the constitution, which precludes the ownership of property by non-residents of the state, also came up for discussion at the fair, as hoteliers interested in setting up hotels and other facilities in the state, wondered how this section would affect them.

“Hotels can be set up on land leased for 90 years on ‘built-operate-transfer’ (BOT) basis. Many Gulf countries do not allow land ownership by foreigners and yet there are many foreign hotels being set up in the region. Jammu & Kashmir state has a somewhat similar situation. The Intercontinental group has set up a hotel in the state,” he pointed out.

Dispelling the impression that the state was mired in an unending cycle of violence, he emphasised that foreign tourists “have never faced a security problem”.

“Indeed, we have already received some 5,000 hotel bookings for Gulmarg Skiing Resort from Canada, Australia and Japan,” he said.

Shah claimed that the maiden ITB Asia fair had been good for the state’s tourism. “We have received an excellent response here in Singapore,” he added.

Shah highlighted the state government’s efforts to increase air and railway links between the state and the rest of India, an endeavour that will promote traffic to Kashmir.

“There are 14 flights from Delhi and two flights from Mumbai to Srinagar and four flights a day from Delhi to Leh. Six direct railway links exist between Delhi and Jammu. Srinagar airport, which has been declared an international airport, will have direct flights from Malaysia and Dubai by Indian Airlines in December,” he said.

Sarita Chauhan called Jammu the “main link” to Kashmir. “Vaishnudevi and Lord Shiva’a abode are very popular holy shrines amongst Indian and also foreign tourists,” she said. Chauhan added that Jammu and Kashmir would be regularly exhibiting at international venues such as Berlin, Singapore and elsewhere in the future.

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