CPDR unveils study report on sustainable tourism in AJK

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Altaf Hamid Rao:

MIRPUR (AJK),   (Parliament Times) :     “By developing and branding destinations; preserving historical, cultural and natural heritage; and establishing heritage museums, Azad Jammu & Kashmir is poised to attract millions of tourists”, a study, conducted, authored and released by Center For Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR), a Kashmiri think tank / NGO on Tuesday said.

When contacted, Executive Director CPDR Ershad Mahmood told this Correspondent on Tuesday that the CPRD recently published the study titled, “Building Sustainable Tourism in Azad Jammu & Kashmir” authored by Dr. Shaheen Akhtar. The research gives reader an in-depthview of multi-faceted yet largely under-developed Tourism industry in AJ&K . Tracing brief historical background of tourism in the region, the study demonstrates its immense potential to become one of the leading industries, capable of uplifting the local people, ensuring economic growth and financial stability of the region.

Elaborating, Ershad Mahmud said that the rich tourism resources of the region have been graphically mapped out by the author from the perspective of cultural and heritage tourism; religious tourism; and adventure and recreational tourism. The study is outcome of several discussions and focus group meetings with the officials of the Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and local shareholders during the last two years, he added.

The research highlights AJ&K’s first-ever Tourism Policy Framework launched in 2019, showcasing its significant aspects like standardization and regulations of tourism, public-private partnership, branding and diversification of tourist destinations, identification and preservation of heritage sites, formation of Tourism Police and Tourism Regulatory Body. The ideas for destination development and the prospects of the proposed 190 km-long Tourism Corridor in AJK which will connect tourist sites in four districts including Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Bagh and Rawalakot, have also been discussed in the study.

Dr. Shaheen Akhtar has critically analyzed the challenges preventing the industry from capitalizing on the opportunities tied with the rich tourist resources of AJ&K which can make the tourism industry a key contributor to the economy not only in the region but also at the national level. Since majority of the splendid locations that attract tourists are located near the LoC, the author renders the unresolved Kashmir conflict and tension along the LoC responsible for holding this industry back from realizing the true potential of the cultural and natural resources of the State. The document also highlights the adverse impact of Corona pandemic on the tourism sector in the context of AJ&K.

In order to revitalize and develop this important sector of economy, some very important and insightful recommendations have been proposed by the author. The writer has also urged the Government of AJ&K/Department of Tourism and Archaeology, AJ&K to take necessary steps like destination development and branding; making the Tourism Policy more comprehensive; identifying and developing potential tourist sites; preserving historical, cultural and natural heritage, establishing heritage museums and an Institute of Tourism & Hospitality to hone skills and training of the youth in the hospitality sector.

The report, it is worthwhile to mention here, is a valuable initiative that brings attention to the huge potential of the tourism industry in AJ&K and the recommendations presented in the report, if considered and followed, can facilitate the flourishing of this important industry of the modern times.

“The research conducted by Dr. Shaheen is a pioneer work containing a number of practical ideas that can be utilized in harnessing the tourism potential of AJ&K”, says Ms. Midhat Shahzad, Secretary Tourism, Information, Information Technology and cultural heritage Government of AJ&K.