Seeing is believing. The FAM trip conducted by the department of tourism, Jammu & Kashmir, was an eye-opener for many travel agents and tour operators.
If you thought that the famed South Indian movie, Roja, was shot in Kashmir, you are wrong. Back in the 90s when the acclaimed film director Maniratnam conceptualized the idea, Kashmir was making the wrong sort of headlines. At the time, ‘Terrorism’ was the emerging keyword. While some insurgents wanted complete independence from India, the others sought Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir was so bad that the movie had to be shot in other hill stations like Himachal Pradesh, Ooty, and Manali.
Fast forward two decades and things have changed for the better.
According to the Department of Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir, the state is now a safe haven. To commemorate this year’s Autumn Festival, the enthusiastic officials at the state tourism department hosted a familiarization trip for travel agents, tour operators, bloggers, social media influencers, and the media.
The objective was to let people come and see for themselves how safe and secure Kashmir is. The outcome was favorable. Now, tour operators are keen to sell Kashmir as a safe tourist destination. Bloggers and social media influencers have started using pro-Kashmir hashtags to promote the destination on social media.
Kiran Khilwani, founder, KK Tour & Travels, Madhya Pradesh, said that she will do all she can to sell Kashmir to her customers. “Actually the tourism in J&K has gone down in the last couple of years due to negative campaigns by vested interests. The real story is that Kashmir is safe and its people are warm and humble.”
Anitha Swamy, the founder of Chennai-based Time Travels & Tours, said that Kashmir would be of great interest to the South Indian market. “When people think of Kashmir, they only think of the chaos and commotion. But there’s more to Kashmir than the negative stories we read every day. The FAM trip organized by the state tourism department changed my mind. Kashmir is a safe place for travelers,” she said.
Anjuna Dhir, Director-Programmes, Eco-Tourism Society of India, said that the FAM trip organized by the tourism department was a revelation. Dhir, who has traveled across the world, never managed to visit Kashmir for obvious reasons.
“I may have still not come to Kashmir for another 10 years for various reasons. I came in because of this FAM trip. And it has been a revelation. Revelation—because Kashmir is all one expects it to be. Absolute beauty. And it’s wonderful. They call it Jannat and it’s true. But besides that, there are so many things, which are going right for Kashmir. I can go on record to say that Kashmir is the cleanest place I have ever seen,” she said.
Riyaz Ahmad Shah, Deputy Director- Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir, said that they are working towards increasing footfall in the state. “J&K has a great potential for tourism. But due to the situations prevailing in the past few decades, we had some limp seasons in the tourist arrivals. But slowly and steadily, because of the intervention of tourism department at different levels, we are helping and hoping to get back the tourism footfall. We have a tourism footfall of an average level but not to the level which we had in previous years. We are trying our best and promoting Kashmir at the national and international level,” he said.
Meanwhile in Jammu…
SK Attri, Deputy Director, Publicity, Jammu, pointed out that every country in the world is affected by terrorism. But that hasn’t stopped people from traveling.
“Jammu and Kashmir is as safe as any part of the world. No crime has been reported to date against any tourists – be it woman, locals, or anyone. Basically, we are suffering because of the negative perception that media has been spreading saying Kashmir is unsafe. We need to fight against that menace,” said Attri, who visited the J&K stall at India International Travel Mart in Delhi in October. The J&K tourism department is planning to promote destinations like Patnitop, Bhaderwah, Badgam, Sonmarg, Gulmarg, and Verinag.
App for tourists
The state tourism department recently launched an app for Jammu. In the second phase, we are planning to launch the same for Kashmir tourism as well. “We have tried to aggregate all the facilities tourists can have at a particular destination. You can look for a destination and the amenities available in that destination. Be it ATMs, hospitals, police stations, waiting point and other stuff one can think of. We have a special feature – panic button, which when pushed will send across a message to the related agencies to help or rescue tourists,” said Attri.
In an effort to boost tourism in the state, the department is actively participating in travel marts and conducting roadshows. The officials are using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to influence millennial travelers.