Tourism in Azad Jammu & Kashmir has grown substantially over the years. Tourism plays a number of important social and economic roles. It is commonly seen as an important form of community economic development. Tourism has great capacity to create large scale employment – from most specialized to unskilled.
The economic benefits of tourism vary from region to region depending upon the nature and scale of tourism. The benefits from infrastructure investments justify primarily for roads, water supply, electricity and public utilities, are widely shared by the other sectors of the economy. Tourist facilities such as hotels, restaurants, museums, clubs, sports complexes, public transport and national parks are also used by domestic tourists and visitors, businessmen and residents. Tourists also contribute to tax revenue both directly through sales taxes and indirectly through property, profits and income taxes. It provides employment, brings infrastructure improvements and help in regional development.
The State of Azad Jammu & Kashmir occupies a unique place in terms of natural beauty. The environment, unique flora and fauna, large bio-diversity, rolling hills, green valleys, virgin forests and diverse culture & traditions make AJ&K, the paradise for tourists. Unlike tourist destinations in other parts of Pakistan, AJ&K presents conditions to attract tourists throughout the year. In order to develop tourism as a major economic activity for the region, a Comprehensive Tourism Master Plan is considered essential, which would be a broad framework for guiding the tourism development in the region across 10 districts of the State.
The plan sets out the key strategic objectives and how to achieve those objectives ensuring its alignment with the tourism policy, strategy and action plan. The development of the master plan has been strategically undertaken and coordinated through active involvement and participation of various stakeholders. The preparation of tourism master plan is to develop a road map for development of tourism for AJ&K and describing potential interventions. The Master Plan entails establishing a tourism corridor connecting tourism spots as a cascaded circuit. This corridor will be developed under the Public Private Partnership (PPP). There will be a policy shift emanating from sole public funding to the Public Private Partnerships (PPP) on the identified routes of the corridor.
A participatory approach, closely involving relevant government agencies (Tourism Department, Land Use Department, C&W Department, Department of Forests and P&D Department) and stakeholders in the planning and operation of tourism activities were involved in the activities. Previous studies conducted on this subject, in order to achieve intellectual inputs were reviewed as a secondary data source.
A skillful multi-disciplinary approach (site visits, discussions with relevant stakeholders, community, documents review etc.) was adopted in view of the specific nature and scope of study. The interactive strategy ensured effective interface with tourism stakeholders at various levels in the evolution of macro and micro level frameworks and model. The interactive approach included:
- Strategic planning approach – facilitate decision making process.
- Participative planning approach – involvement of relevant stakeholders
(Government Departments, Community, Tour operators etc.
- Market based planning approach – visitor preferences, service providers, market trends and investors interests.
- Environmentally sensitive planning approach – Environmental Protection Laws & Regulation, Forest Protection and other archaeological, historical and religious concerns.