“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Farooq shows how a conscientious and professional civil servant can make a big difference. A few more like him and Kashmir would become a destination of choice for all

(Dr. Farooq Ahmad Lone, 46, was born in Anantnag. After completing his initial schooling in his native village of Khargund, Chowgam, he graduated in first class from Government Degree College Anantnag. He passed M.Sc. Botany from the University of Kashmir with distinction securing first class first position followed by M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees. Receipent of young scientist award of J&K and the best paper award from the Muslim Association for the Advancement of Sciences (MAAS) based in Aligarh. He has to credit one book titled palaeoethnobotany plants and ancient man in Kashmir published by A A Balkema (Rotterdan),Oxford Press and IBH (New Delhi), and others. He has published more than 30 resarch paper and scientific articles. With a varied experience in teaching, research, science managment and administration he has worked in Education, Science and Technology, Information and Public Relations, Tourisim, Health and Medical Education and Estates Departments of Jammu and Kashmir Government.)

We Need Capacity Building

Till recently I was posted as Chief Executive Officer, Gulmarg Development Authority stationed at Gulmarg. It gave an excellent opportunity to interact with people from different regions of the country and globe who used to throng this world famous tourist resort round the year. It was a great learning experience. There is no denying the fact that tourism has the potential of becoming backbone of our economy. We have to make all out efforts to be ready for the large scale, high-end tourism not only by way of developing required infrastructure but also by way of developing the required human skills. The persons who have direct interface with the tourists need to be given proper training and orientation so that they are able to deal with the tourists in a desired manner. Minor mishandlings can cause huge damages. For the benefit of those working in the tourism industry and related departments, I want to share my experiences.

On 20 June 2009 at 6.p.m while on my way from Gulmarg to Srinagar I received the following message on my cell phone. It read exactly this. “Respected Sir, I am Sanjay Sethi… I am a tourist who has reached there with difficulty. I had 2 experience strikes, blockouts, jams, threats and what not 2 reach here KASHMIR…The most discourteous n inhumane people without any heart, have spoilt our day… I have registered a formal complaint at the Gondola Base Station… please give a better message 2 this world about Kashmir. It’s your duty Sir.”

I called on the cell number from which the message had been flashed +919823014775 +919823014775. An evidently angry voice responded after several seconds and a pause. I politely enquired from Mr. Sanjay the reason for his outburst. He told that he was member of a group of friends numbering around 30 who, on his insistence, had chosen to come to Kashmir on a holiday in preference to Europe. However they were not allowed to proceed for the second phase of Gondola by the officials of Cable Car Corporation because of some unexplained technical problems.

Having not been able to spend time in the snow clad mountains the fellow friends had ridiculed his decision of insisting on visiting Kashmir. Back to his hotel room in Highlands Park he gave vent to his emotions through this furious message on my number. I apologized for the inconvenience caused and ensured him to get back after getting the facts verified. I enquired from him whether they shall be in Gulmarg the next day to which he replied in affirmative. I assured him of the best possible services during their stay in Jammu and Kashmir State and forcefully argued that his experience is just an aberration.

Before I could call back, another message flashed on my phone screen.“I thank you for the kind courtesy extended by answering my concern… I hope his does not end there sir n every tourist feels good n comfortable at least emotionally..Regards..Sanjay Sethi.”

I called up in-charge of Gondola at Gulmarg and enquired about the incident. He informed that because of high wind velocity at the Apharwat Mountain Top they had to stop the operation of second phase of Gondola on technical grounds in the afternoon. Somehow the tourists had not been communicated in a proper way by the officials at the ground level. I advised the official to personally receive the group at the Gondola Station the next day, extend the courtesy of preferential ticket booking to them, if possible and explain the technical difficulties due to which operation of the second phase was stopped in the afternoon the other day.

Next I called Mr. Sanjay, informed him about the technical difficulties and asked him to go for Gondola ride next morning. I also gave him phone number of the official to be contacted in case of any difficulty. He was apparently satisfied with my response.

Next day I had to remain in Srinagar to attend the marriage ceremony of son of a friend who incidentally happened to be posted as Managing Director of the Cable Car Corporation controlling the Gulmarg Gondola. While we were chatting and waiting for the lunch to be served in the late afternoon I received yet another message on my phone: “I really thank you for all.. we all had a great trip 2 d snow slopes today.. I wish d whole world comes 2 Kashmir and it prospers and flourishes…one last wish which Insha Allah only d Almighty can fulfill… Helicopter travel 2 AMARNATH 2morrow… Ready to bear all costs…if u can make it happen sir… but thanks in all cases…”

Mr. Farooq Shah Director Tourism was sitting beside me. We talked about the whole story. He said that he will try to help through the operators of the helicopter service, if possible. I accordingly , informed Mr. Sanjay to contact Mr. Shah on his phone number which I communicated.

I don’t know whether he required any assistance for helicopter service or not but on 23rd he flashed another message “Leaving for Delhi … thanx for all… Sanjay Sethi.. Nagpur..”

A small courteous gesture on my part could change the perception of a person from “most discourteous inhuman people without any heart” to “ I wish the whole world comes to Kashmir and it flourishes and prospers…”

My purpose to narrate this experience is that we need to work a lot on the capacity building front to give basic training to our field workers and tourist guides on how to deal with the tourists in a courteous manner if we have to sustain our tourism industry. Word of mouth is a great instrument in popularizing tourist destinations. Perhaps much more powerful than any other publicity strategy.