From vaccinating priority groups to holding training sessions for tourism stakeholders, the Tourism department in Kashmir has chalked out a meticulous plan to receive tourists again as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to recede here.
“The plan includes capacity building on protocols to handle tourists and ensure their safety during the stay in Kashmir, plus special vaccination drives for all stakeholders involved with the tourism industry,” Sarmand Hafiz, Secretary in the Tourism department, told Republic TV.
Hafiz added, there are already COVID guidelines and SOPs in place which everyone has to follow and around 85 per cent of tourism stakeholders, including houseboat owners, shikarawalas, and hotel staff around the Dal Lake, have been vaccinated. Similar vaccination drives were also conducted in tourist hotspots of Sonmarg, Doodpathri, Yousmarg, Pahalgam and Gulmarg.
“We are a safe place to travel and that is the message we are sending by organising today’s programming,” said Hafiz. He further added,” awareness about Covid guidelines is being generated through Kashmiri folklore and drama by involving Shikarawalas, houseboat owners,”
The department of Tourism, along with the directorate of Health services here is working on capacity building among the hotel staff to train them on how to deal with travellers flow.
“We are also working on new Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs] for hotels, like ensuring well ventilated and airy spaces, and new guidelines for the staff,” he added.
Wali Mohammad Bhat, President of the Shikara Association, said that the COVID number is fast dipping here and the restrictions on travelling abroad would attract more holidaymakers to Kashmir, though the mandatory coronavirus test on arrival could be a deterrent and tourists should be allowed entry if they have a recent negative test report.
“After taking both the anti-Covid jabs, we are gearing up for the season and hope it will pick up provided there is no major spike in the number of COVID-19 cases again,” said Bhat
Pertinently, the J&K government took several initiatives to bring tourists back which had started yielding positive results in past. The aggressive campaigning by the Tourism Department had also attracted several filmmakers to shoot their films here.