Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stop Politicising Tourism!

While inaugurating the 9th Convention of the ATOAI (Adventure Tour Operators Association of India), Omar Abdullah, the State Chief Minister admitted that earlier they had been making the mistake of mixing tourism with the prevalent situation in Kashmir. Politicians have been invariably equating greater tourism arrivals with the return of normal situation in the valley. It is known all over the world that there are political problems in Kashmir. The Chief Minister himself has been repeatedly stressing that there is a political problem in Kashmir which needs a solution.
However, in spite of this political problem, many economic activities carry along. Export of handicrafts, fruit, and many other items valued at hundreds of crores is never taken to mean return of normal situation. Rather all these economic activities are supposed to be a routine affair. No one says that export of fruit and handicraft items means normalcy has returned to Kashmir. In fact, many other similar activities are never portrayed as signs of normalcy. For some unknown reasons, it is tourism only which is projected as a barometer of political normalcy. There are many spots in the world where there have been upheavals or abnormal situations. However, politicians in those areas never come on TV channels to claim that increased tourism activity signifies return of total normalcy. There is no doubt that the tourism industry in Kashmir constitutes a significant sector in the State's economy especially because of its service related orientation, it is a major employer. Uncertain situation does discourage people from visiting a place. This is especially so when one has many alternatives available. In the present world scenario, there is hardly any place in the world which is totally safe or without any law and order problems.
This holds good even in the western countries where London and New York are quite often on "Security Red Alert". This is truer in the metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Still people do not stop visiting these places. For last three years the continuously uncertain situation had given a tremendous set back to tourism. There has been significant loss to the state's economy. Realising this, most of the leaders leading movement for the basic rights of Kashmiris gave statements that the tourists from all over the country and abroad are welcome in Kashmir. They gave assurances that the tourists are totally safe in the valley. These declarations did have an impact on the arrival of the tourists both from within the country and abroad. In fact, the numbers as claimed by tourism officials have already crossed half a million arrivals excluding the pilgrims to holy Amarnath cave. These too have crossed the half a million. Now, the people from the ruling side too seem to feel that the politicisation of tourism has damaged the tourism scenario and highlighting these activities has acted as the proverbial red rag to the bull!
In mid nineties when tourism had started picking up again after a total collapse of about six years or so, there were specific instructions from the Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi to all the media channels and others to avoid highlighting tourism activities. However, in the present scenario, it is the Central Officials and Politicians who are highlighting tourism activities as return of normalcy more than the locals. There is a vicious circle and sort of a competition between the Politicians and Officials. Such activities are done purely to take credit for return of so called normalcy by various players. If Omar Abdullah has sincerely felt that there should be no politicisation of tourism, then he has to first rein in his fellow politicians as well as his officials. Next, he has to impress upon Delhi in this regard so that tourism in the state is left undisturbed as a routine economic activity. Let us hope he succeeds in his endeavour in promoting tourism purely as an economic activity.


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