From vaccinating 80% stakeholders to elaborate guidelines for hotels, the Tourism department in Kashmir has chalked out a meticulous plan to receive tourists again, as the second wave of coronavirus pandemic dips significantly.
“We are working on two fronts for safe and secure means of reviving tourism, as the pandemic level is likely to dip further. First, special vaccination drives for all stakeholders involved with the tourism industry. Two, capacity building on protocols to handle tourists and ensure their safety during the stay in Kashmir,” Ahsan-ul-Haq Chisthi, Deputy Director in the Tourism department, told The Hindu .
According to the department, around 75% tourism stakeholders, including shikarawalas, houseboat owners and hotel staff around the Dal lake, have been vaccinated. Similar vaccination drives were also conducted in tourist hotspots of Pahalgam and Gulmarg.
“We are speeding up the vaccination drive to ensure that all get double doses in time,” Mr. Chisthi said.
The Tourism department, along with the Health department and expert academics from Kashmir, is working on capacity building among the hotel staff to train them on how to deal with tourist flow. “We are working on new Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs] for hotels, like ensuring well ventilated and airy spaces, and new guidelines for the staff and restaurants,” Mr. Chisthi said.
Gondola in Gulmarg, Asia’s highest cable car project, has also been directed to reduce the number of tourists ferried in a cabin.
‘Make RT-PCR must’
Meanwhile, Kashmir-based tour operators have demanded that RT-PCR test should be made mandatory for all tourists heading for Kashmir now.
“Rapid Antigen Tests [RAT] at the Srinagar airport have not been effective during the second wave. RT-PCR should be made must and the number of tourists travelling to Kashmir need to be regulated,” said Nasir Shah, chairman of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, Jammu and Kashmir Chapter.
He said only vaccinated tourists should book their tickets to “minimise the chances of any spread of the virus”. “All vehicles associated with the tourism industry should not fill more than 40% of seats,” he added.
Mr. Shah said contact-less check-ins and barcode access to menus etc need to be introduced.
Farooq Kuthoo, president of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), also seconded the demand of Mr. Shah to make the RT-PCR test mandatory.
“We welcome the Tourism department’s move to build capacity among stakeholders. We are getting queries from prospective tourists. This is the time to put in place an effective mechanism for safe tourism,” Mr. Kuthoo said.
The Tourism department came under fire for organising unregulated musical shows and Tulip garden programmes in March this year, which is believed to have contributed to the spike in coronavirus cases then.