(Tourism Department needs to direct increased marketing efforts on South India and South East Asia which are emerging as potential Tourism markets for Kashmir)
The 64th Convention of the Travel agents Association of India has just concluded in Srinagar. The Convention was attended by over 600 delegates from all over the country. The Convention was held in Srinagar after 31 years. A large number of delegates came from South India including Kerala, known as “God’s Own Country”. The delegates including some top doyens of Travel, Hospitality, Airline and Travel media such as Aditya Gosh, CEO, Indigo Airlines; Nukul Anand, CEO, ITC Hotels; Kapil Kak, CEO, CAPA; Yossi Fatael, Vice-President UFTAA; Rodeney D’Cruz, Assistant Director IATA, India; Praveen Chugh, President, TAFI; Rajendran Vellapalath, CEO, TP Connect, Dubai and Yogesh Gondal, Editor New India Publications. From “God’s Own Country”, Najeeb, the President of Kerala Tourism Federation was there. This is in addition to the Chairmen of all the State Chapters of TAAI and so many other prominent Travel Agents, Hoteliers and Airline representatives. The mere fact that such an high profile Travel Conference was held here is enough marketing initiative to attract tourists not only from all over the country but abroad also. The credit for this goes to the State Tourism Secretary Sarmad Hafeez, Director Tourism, Mehmud Shah and the most dynamic and helpful TAAI President Sunil Kumar and his team.
An important part of the convention were the knowledge sessions on different topics related to Tourism promotion, use of technology, innovations of digitization, and the impact of media on Tourism promotion etc. Different experts in the relevant fields spoke during these sessions. Regarding the role of the media, there were strong reservations regarding over exaggerated reports with very scary pictures and videos circulated all over. It was felt that such reports discouraged potential tourists as the impression went around that the situation was dangerous and out of control even though actually on ground it was not so bad. It was disclosed that the Government had set up a crisis management group in the Ministry of Tourism to counter the negative publicity sometime back. However, as informed in the meeting, the group failed to deliver and it was wound up. There were suggestions for having crisis groups in the area of every chapter of TAAI for giving exact situation for the benefit of potential tourists. Some people opined that it was no use contacting media in general to play down negative news as they will not listen because every unusual happening is news for them. On the contrary, some media experts opined that every negative event should be countered by the Travel Trade through Travel Media with positive happenings in the concerned areas at the same time. Kashmir was being painted as a dangerous and unstable area by the media. However, the very holding of the convention successfully with such a large attendance in Srinagar counters that view.
One important announcement in the convention was declaration of year 2018 as the “Visit Kashmir Year” by the Travel Agents Association of India. Mr. Sunil Kumar, the President of TAAI announced that the TAAI Managing Committee had decided to promote tourism to Kashmir by announcing through all the member websites and printed literature the celebration of the year 2018 as the “Visit Kashmir Year”! According to him all the members would package Kashmir beautifully so that the valley witnesses a bumper tourist season. An interesting sidelight of the convention was a large presence of delegates from the South Indian states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and so on. Also there were travel agents from South East Asia. It was felt that there is a lot of scope for generating traffic to Kashmir from the Southern States. Tourists have been coming from these parts earlier also. However, an important aspect was that the Southern States were not so much affected by the biased negative propaganda of the mainstream channels of the North. These were hardly watched in the South! Kerala was a good example from the South which had many water bodies and houseboats. Najeeb, the President of the Kerala Tourism Federation offered to help in marketing Kashmir on a reciprocal basis. Kerala Tourism apart from marketing Kashmir Holidays for the Keralites would also promote Kashmir among the foreigners visiting Kerala. Similarly, Kashmir Tourism would promote visits by Kashmiri travellers to Kerala and also market Kerala among the foreigners visiting Kashmir. He called it from “God’s Own Country” to “Paradise on Earth”! Something worth experimenting as Tourism Promotion!
It may be worthwhile for local travel agents to explore taking of groups from Kashmir to Kerala. There are direct flights from Delhi to Kochi. Incidentally, Kerala has the first mosque built in India. Cheraman Jum’ah Masjid in Kodungallur town, in central Kerala, just 30 km north of Kochi, is not just the oldest in India and the subcontinent but one built during the lifetime of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in 629 AD by an Arab propagator of Islam, Malik Ibn Dinar. It is also testimony to two facts. One, Islam came to India long before the Mughals came in from the northwest. Two, the entry of Islam was smooth and Muslims enjoyed the full patronage of the locals irrespective of their religions – a facet that is still visible and cherished here. Incidentally, Kashmir’s historical tolerance gels with the Keralite non-communal life style! From “God’s Own Country” to “Paradise on Earth” really clicks!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir