The tourism department of Jammu and Kashmir has started a campaign to highlight the sector’s “success stories” to counter negative perception about the state, often in news for unrest and terrorist violence. Mehmood Ahmad Shah, Director of J&K Tourism, admitted that tourist arrival has taken a hit due to the latest phase of civil unrest, but maintained the problem is restricted to a handful of districts and the rest of the state is safe for holiday-makers. “I admit there is a problem in the Valley, but not of the magnitude that is being portrayed (in the media). There are 22 districts in the state and the current problem is restricted to just three districts,” he said. Shah, who was in the city on the invitation of local NGO Sarhad, was speaking to reporters yesterday. He said the state’s tourism industry, a key source of revenue and employment, was badly affected due to the violent protests which broke out in the wake of killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani in July last year.
Things had started improving after the protests ebbed but widespread violence during the recent by-polls for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat again disrupted tourism activities, Shah said. “The average annual footfall of tourists in the state is around one crore and compared to last year, this year arrivals are down by 4 to 5 lakh (till now),” said Shah. He said the department is using social media platforms to counter negative perception in the media about the state and provide a “correct picture”. “To do that we have started our own social media handles on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, where we are showing success stories of our tourism business. “We are recording interviews of VVIPs and celebrities who visit the Valley and putting out their experiences through social media. This will help present a correct and positive image of the Valley,” he said.
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Talking about the objective of his visit to Maharashtra, Shah said the state, along with Gujarat and West Bengal, is a principal market for travellers coming to Kashmir. These three states account for most number of sightseers visiting Jammu and Kashmir, the officer said. “This year, the arrivals from these states have not been satisfactory. So I have come here to instill confidence among prospective tourists from Maharashtra and to dispel negative image of the state.” He said the state government has introduced helicopter services to the picturesque Gurez Valley with an aim to attract more visitors to the area in North Kashmir.
Shah said tourism is an effective tool for promoting national integration. “Tourism binds the nation and makes people aware about its diversity.” The official said the Kashmir Valley offers immense potential for adventure activity and this needs to be tapped in a big way.