The recently concluded 64th edition of India Travel Congress of Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) is set to bring back the lost glory of Jammu and Kashmir as tourism destination on global tourism map. Organised in association with the Ministry of Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir, the 3 - day convention from March 27-30, 2018 at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC), Srinagar witnessed the presence of over 600 delegates from various parts of the country. TAAI Convention was back to Kashmir after a gap of over three decades.
The theme of the convention was ‘Incredible Tourism’-Integration, Inspiration and Innovation’. The inauguration of the convention saw the presence of Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti; Tourism Minister Tassaduq Hussain Mufti, Minister of State for Tourism Priya Sethi; senior cabinet members of J&K government such as Abdul Rehman Veeri, Syed Basharat Bukhari, Abdul Haq Khan, Syed Altaf Bukhari; senior officials of state tourism ministry; office bearers of TAAI and members of travel and tourism fraternity of the country and media.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during her address to the TAAI conference in Srinagar made an emotive appeal to the people across the country to visit Kashmir and help heal the wounds here. Sunil Kumar, President, TAAI, said: “TAAI has been for long been committed to understanding tourism in the country with a focus on changing it towards the better and evaluating trends to be better synced. We are very confident that once this convention concludes successfully, the visibility of Kashmir as a tourism destination will multiply many times and this would result in more tourists coming to Kashmir. That is our goal, that is our desire and that is our prayer,” Kumar said and added that the convention offered visibility, connect and opportunity to Jammu & Kashmir. It emphasized that Kashmir is a safe place for tourists and such large MICE events can be held here. It offered J&K with a huge connect with the industry media and the world.
Elaborating on theme, Kumar said : “Tourism consistently multiplies, opens new avenues for all of us and as industry stakeholders its extremely important that we are able to bring in very strong integration. Inspiration is very important. Our own children today not connect with us. Consistency of legacy is challenge therefore. Therefore, we must inspire the new generation to be connected with the industry.”
Tassaduq Mufti, in his address, said that Jammu & Kashmir offers a variety of attraction to tourists in terms of the regions, cultures and cuisines. He suggested that the stakeholders have to act as guardians and conservationists for the preservation of the same while promoting tourism. “Jammu and Kashmir needed TAAI more than they need us. It is great to have TAAI delegates here. They organize things very efficiently. I hope we do well with them this year,” he said on the sideline of the event. “It is a historic conference. We could not have hoped for better start to the year. I do look forward to long and enduring partnership with TAAI and hope we have a good year and years to follow,” he said. Priya Sethi spoke about the diverse tourism products of the state as well as proactive measures taken by the government to promote tourism in the state.
“You have to create alternate stories. Unless you don’t create points of focus elsewhere, the problem of negative promotion will persist. However, just promoting through the mainstream media is not going to be effective in the long run. The idea is thus to encourage positive stories about ourselves and encourage discussions,” Sarmad Hafeez, Administrative Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir Tourism, said during the press conference earlier in the day.
Delivering the keynote address at the inauguration, Aditya Ghosh, President of the InterGlobe Aviation Limited which operates IndiGo, said if the state government lowers sales tax on the aviation fuel and keeps the Srinagar airport functional 24×7, it would draw more tourists to the state and also help create more jobs in the sector. "Andhra Pradesh reduced the sales tax on aviation fuel from 26 per cent to 1 per cent. In two years, the state saw an increase of 250 per cent in air travellers. I suggest the state government should reduce the sales tax from 26.25 per cent to one per cent. If it does not work as it is expected to, you can always go back to previous rates but give it a try," he said and added that if the airport remains functional 24×7, what stops us from parking planes here, starting early morning and late night flights. Urging the government that it should lay emphasis on providing an enabling environment rather than creating infrastructure for tourism, he said once the environment for tourism is conducive, the private tourist players would themselves create the infrastructure.
Kumar, in his valedictory remark, announced 2018 as ‘Visit Kashmir Year’. He said that TAAI chose Kashmir as the venue for the event to revive the tourism in the region. By holding the convention in Kashmir, he said that TAAI wanted to send a message across the globe that the valley is a safe place to visit and also remove any negative perception about the place.