In a bid to give a fillip to Jammu and Kashmir's tourism sector, the state government is setting out to formulate a tourism policy for the first time.
Speaking at an event in Mumbai on Friday, J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said the state would invest Rs2,400 crore to boost tourism.
Appealing to people of Mumbai to visit Kashmir as part of her government's tourism promotion event, Mufti said, ''I am here to seek help from you people. Do not fear to come to Kashmir. Our vision in promoting tourism is just that we want our children play around the trees, chase birds, sing songs again and not throw stones at each other.''
Despite tourism being one of the contributors to the J&K's economy, the government has so far never formulated a comprehensive tourism policy in the State.
''Violence is all across the world, it happens in Kashmir too. When an Indian soldier is martyred the biggest tribute people of the country can pay him is visit Kashmir in large numbers and show the militants and terrorists we don't fear them,'' Mufti further said.
''Owing to the heavy inflow of tourists to the state and the increasing competition with tourist destinations abroad, it has become necessary for the state to upgrade existing hotels, guest houses and develop new destinations to attract more tourists,'' said Farooq Shah, J&K's tourism secretary.
''It is only possible when the state has a well-planned tourism policy that can improve the sector. A comprehensive tourism policy is the need of an hour and will make a road map so that tourist places are fast developed on modern lines to cater huge tourist inflow without degrading the environment,'' he added.
Shah said the state government is expecting an investment of around Rs30,000 crore from private sector in the next 10 years. ''Many five-star hotels, including international brands, will be coming up in the valley in a next few years, giving a boost to tourism in the state,'' he added.
Mufti said the policy will help connect locals with tourists. ''The policy would create opportunities of employment for jobless youth and women in the state,'' she said.
The state has abundant potential for tourism in the form of sightseeing, wildlife, adventure sports as well as pilgrimage yet a proper exploration and development has not been carried out by the state to date.
''By having the policy, government can identify such new destinations, create infrastructure there to attract tourists, we are also planning to promote eco-tourism in the state,'' added Shah.
A tour operator from J&K who was at the event claimed, ''There is no monitoring and everyone is running this sector his own way. Many other states do not hold as much potential of tourism as Kashmir have been promoting the sector on a large scale. I hope the new policy will have emphasis on brand building and promotion of tourism in the valley.''