India began showcasing the Himalayan region of Kashmir to tourism officials of G20 countries on Tuesday, hoping to attract foreign visitors to the picture-postcard territory troubled by a three-decade Islamist insurgency.
The G20 tourism meeting in Srinagar is part of a series of meetings India has organised across the country in the run-up to a summit in New Delhi in September.
The federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir has been roiled by militant violence since 1989, disrupting a thriving tourism sector in a region called the “Switzerland of India” for its snow-capped mountains, lush meadows, tulip gardens and lakes.
However, in recent years, domestic tourism has boomed.
Federal Tourism Minister G. Kishan Reddy said a record 18.4 million tourists visited Kashmir in 2022 and the government was expecting that number to strongly grow and include more foreign visitors.
Besides the boom in domestic tourism, a significant number of foreign tourists also visited Kashmir in 2022. According to Kashmir tourism officials, number included 20,000 foreign visitors, mostly from Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, and Taiwan.
“Now the focus was now to attract tourists from Europe,” Kashmir tourism officials said.
“For the last 30 years, this land of peaceful co-existence of almost all religions had to suffer state-sponsored terrorism by our neighbouring country,” Manoj Sinha, Jammu and Kashmir’s chief administrator told the opening of the G20 tourism working group meeting in Srinagar, the summer capital of the territory.
However, the federal government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “isolated the terror eco-system”, Sinha told the meeting, which was organised under stringent security.
India blames Pakistan for sponsoring cross-border terrorism.
Pakistan’s long-time ally China has opposed the tourism meeting and is not attending. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have sent private tourism sector officials, organisers said.
India’s G20 “sherpa” Amitabh Kant said that the response to the meeting was overwhelming, with 60 foreign delegates taking part.