“The national media is portraying a negative image of Kashmir,” says Tariq Mir, Kashmir Hotel, and Restaurant Association’s (KHARA) General Secretary. “Media plays a big role in promoting the state but negative reportage has damaged the valley’s image.” Mr. Mir says tourism is one of the main contributors to Kashmir’s economy after agriculture. But the on-going political situation has dampened its growth. “This is the tourism season and the hotels have about 20 percent booking. Compared to the previous year, the industry has peaked up.” Mr. Mir says 2016 was a promising year, but it didn’t turn out as expected, and the industry went into a loss. “We have expressed our concerns with the state and central governments but nothing has been done. The hoteliers have huge loans to pay off and the operation costs are high. The restaurants are also running at a loss.”
Media Plays a Significant Role
Mainstream media plays a significant role in development and growth of tourism. Kashmir’s tourism industry is highly sensitive to politics. Every stakeholder has to play its part and the media is a very important associate. Many tourists make their travel decisions without tour planners. They make their decisions based on media information including newspapers, magazines, television (movies), and the internet (social media). Their decisions are based on what they see and hear.
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After finalizing on a destination, be it, Fiji, Maldives, Goa or Kashmir, they then go forth seeking travel and accommodation bookings. While negative reportage peaks up TRPs and readership, it affects the domestic economy and common men’s live. Media can play a significant role by helping brand the particular destination, in this case, ‘Kashmir’. The government should do its bit to. It should understand and appreciate the role of the media and work closely with them to promote tourism in a manner that their objectives will not run into conflict with the objectives of the media.
Rebranding Kashmir as a Destination
Kashmir was a haven for tourists – both, foreign and domestic. Due to the on-going political turmoil, foreign tourists now prefer going to Ladakh and Leh. There are domestic tourists from various states of India like South India, Mumbai, and West Bengal. Kashmir is in dire need of rebranding to re-establish itself as a destination. Kashmir should be repositioned on the market to gain the much needed competitive advantage.
Moreover, a new brand identity will help the valley peak its dying tourism industry. Presently, Kashmir is suffering from decreased tourist numbers and is struggling with its negative image. The Kashmir tourism body should create a new global visual and verbal brand identity. They have to launch a destination brand ambassador like Switzerland has done with a Bollywood celebrity. Surely this will work wonders for Kashmir.
Anchored in the pristine Himalayas, Kashmir provides a salubrious environment. The valley’s natural beauty – melodious streams, rolling hills and snow-capped mountains have made it a heaven-like destination for tourists.