Tourism minister to visit J&K, Ladakh next month

Union tourism minister Prahlad Patel will visit Jammu Kashmir and Leh next month, along with a team of officials, to finalise the plans to boost tourism in the two newly-formed Union territories by November 1.

In an interview to PTI, Patel said he had already sent two officials from the Union culture and tourism ministry on deputation to Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, who would act as an “advance team” before he would arrive there in the first week of September to take stock of the situation.

“I will to go to Leh first and then to Jammu and Kashmir to visit the identified tourist spots and conduct a review. We need to provide skill training to guides, get them acquainted with different languages. We are planning to get this done over the next two months,” he said on Monday.

The Union minister of state (independent charge) for tourism added that he would lead the teams unless he accompanied the prime minister on his upcoming trip to Russia.

He said two recent decisions of the government — on e-visas and on opening up 137 peaks, 15 of which are in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, for foreign tourists — would boost the tourist footfall in the region, which in turn would help in the growth of both revenue-generating and employment opportunities.

Patel listed four key elements of his plan to prepare the two Union territories for tourism — upgrading manpower, which would include training guides, build awareness on the bread-and-breakfast scheme, asking people to open up their homes at places where there is a shortage of hotels, give them basic training to run them and also promote adventure sports in a big way.

“What we need to do is change perceptions like we managed to do in the north-east. We need to tell everyone that there are no security issues in the region and it will be safe for them to travel there.

“While we have the cultural heritage to get tourists to visit these places, what we need to do is build amenities around them. We have to identify areas and build infrastructure,” he said.

Patel further said while in Ladakh, the focus would be on tourists from countries practising Buddhism with guides being taught specific languages, in the Kashmir Valley, the ministry was planning to revive the Sufi tradition at places like Kishtwar.

He asserted that the tourism ministry would play a significant role in providing employment to the people of these two regions through its new initiative of providing online certification for guides.

“We have started this initiative, whereby youngsters from across the country can do a course online and within six months, we will give them a certification of a guide. There will be a fee of Rs 2,000 but for SCs, STs and the people from the aspirational districts, it will be free. We will connect Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to this initiative,” the minister said.

On August 5, the government abrogated the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated it into two Union territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

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