One of the most important requisites for a good tourism destination is ethically regulated trade. Different players in the industry have to follow certain well established and internationally known norms while providing various services to the visitors. This is the basic requirement which establishes the reputation of a destination. A large number of tourists are known to go for repeat visits during their annual vacations. Quite often the deciding factor for choosing a repeat destination is the behaviour of the people and standardisation of services and prices. This is one aspect in which lot needs to be done in Kashmir. This regulation can be ensured in two distinct ways. One is on behalf of the industry itself by different associations. The other is the legal enforcement by the Government. From the industry side there are different associations of players involved in the trade such as hoteliers, transporters, travel agents, tour operators, and guides etc. These organisations fix their own norms for membership and expect members to follow certain ethical guidelines to ensure fair deal to a potential tourist. Any member deviating from these norms or mistreating tourists can lose the membership or get black listed.
This system operates very well in developed countries where there are very strong consumer laws to redress the grievances of a client. There is no need for the Government to step in. In regard to basic amenities including services rendered, these are governed by local laws which are monitored by various state functionaries and executive arms of locally elected bodies such as municipal corporations etc. However, in developing countries like ours, there is very little chance of voluntary regulation. Firstly, the players are not really enlightened about the basic ethics of the trade. Secondly, there is such a proliferation of travel associations and organisations competing with each other that it is virtually impossible to enforce voluntary discipline among different members as they have a choice of dumping one association to join another. It is here that the government has to step in to safe guard the interests of a tourist.
Jammu & Kashmir was the pioneer state in enacting legislation for this purpose. There exists a comprehensive legislation called “The Jammu & Kashmir Registration of Tourist Trade Act 1978”. This is probably the stringent legislation any where in the world for protecting the interests of a visitor to the state. The law was amended in 1982 for making touting and pestering of tourists a cognizable and a non-bailable offence. The Act and the Rules there under give detailed and comprehensive procedure for regulating the tourism industry in the state. Different Tourist Areas in the state have been notified from time to time. The Director Tourism and other officers heading tourism set ups in various tourist areas have been designated as Prescribed Authorities under the Act and have been delegated magisterial powers for summoning witnesses etc. They have also been given powers for compounding an offence under the Act by mutual agreement. No pleader is admissible under the Act and the person against whom a complaint is received has to present himself to the Prescribed Authority in person.
The procedure for licensing and enforcement has been separated and separate nodal authorities have been designated for the purpose. The licensing part is looked after by Deputy Director Tourism, Registration while as the Enforcement side is looked after by Deputy Director Tourism, Enforcement who is a senior Police Officer of the rank of a Superintendent of Police on deputation to Tourism Department. A company of regular Police designated as Tourist Police is deployed with the Tourism Department for assisting in the enforcement of the Act. In spite of such a comprehensive system of regulation and enforcement there are numerous complaints from tourists visiting different resorts.
One of the major complaints is pestering of tourists and touting. These are offences under the Act in which Police have extensive powers. Either they are totally ignorant of it or they are not deliberately enforcing these regulations. The Police does not need a complainant for these offences under the Act unlike other offences of cheating, overcharging etc., and Policemen anywhere observing occurrence of pestering and touting of tourists can take cognizance on their own. There is urgent need for the senior officers in the Police Department to make their men aware about these regulations and direct them to enforce these as and when warranted to make the passage of tourists smooth and hassle free. Most of the other complaints relate to over charging, not providing services promised or commensurate with the tariff charged, and in some cases outright cheating. In case of shopping the complaints are also for over charging, supplying inferior quality goods than billed for, cheating, and in a number of cases non-despatch of goods already paid for. All these cases can be easily dealt with under the law. The prosecution can continue even if the tourist has gone back.
The Evidence Act has been amended for the purposes of the Tourism Act to enable the written complaint/statement of a tourist to be admitted as evidence even if he has physically left the state. Prior to eruption of turmoil in 1990, the Act had been strictly enforced and a large number of complaints were attended to by the Tourist Police. However, during last two decades there has been slackness due to the uncertain situation and the multiplicity of the authorities operating in different areas. Additionally there had been very little traffic. Even then quite a few complaints of tourists were attended to. Now that the tourist arrivals have sharply increased it is imperative to fully activate this legislation. There are other requirements to ensure this. Firstly, the strength of Tourist Police has to be restored to sanctioned quota. Usually it was always on lesser side and the members of the force were assigned other duties than looking after the tourists. Secondly, the Tourist Police deployment has to be more Officer oriented. It is better to provide 20 Assistant Sub-Inspectors than 50 Constables. These Officers have to be additionally given tourism orientation as the nature of their duties in this sector is different than maintaining of law and order. Apart from attending to complaints the Enforcement Wing of the Tourism Department has to ensure adherence to prescribed norms by the members of the tourist trade.
This requires continuous monitoring of various facilities and obtaining feed back from tourists. In order to maintain quality of tourism product, the Department has to be very active in the regulatory role. In fact, it should be the primary role of the state sector as the commercial side is best left to the private sector. The Department needs to continuously interact with both the visitors as well as members of the trade. It had been stated in the beginning that in developing countries there are very strong associations which ensure a fair deal to the tourist. Ideal situation in any good tourism destination is self regulation by the trade itself. Recourse to law should be the last resort. There is urgent need to motivate the private sector for going in for self-regulation. The Department can also explore the possibility of displaying lists of various service providers on the basis of their general reputation, efficiency, honest dealing, and least number of complaints to inform the potential visitors. The most reputable ones could be given awards of excellence to encourage fair dealings in the trade. One of the most important aspects of this regulatory measure is to make tourists aware about the existence of this special legislation protecting the interests of tourists. We had started giving an advisory on the subject in all our brochures.
This can be further disseminated through the tourism website and also included in all tourist literature including privately published guide books etc. It has been emphasised in earlier articles that the planned development of tourism requires three essential ingredients, potential, accessibility, and infrastructure. However, marketing of the tourism product and its remaining in circulation requires regulation of the trade. It is the most important pillar of the tourism edifice to ensure repeat visits by tourists. The primary responsibility in this regard devolves on the State but it has to be supplemented by the private sector. Let us hope that in the interests of tourism both the players fully understand and discharge their roles!
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