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A spate of national-level conferences in Srinagar may be keeping the already hard- pressed police force on its toes, but the administration hopes the meets will give a boost to Kashmir's crumbling tourism industry. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will be addressing a conference of ministers and officials on GST (Goods and Service Tax) in Srinagar later this week. The city's shopkeepers and hoteliers hope that the conference will help traders do business in the season of protests that has severely hit tourism. For the Jammu and Kashmir Police, busy fighting militancy and controlling student protests, the conferences are an additional burden on an already over-stretched force. But a senior police official said as long as the meetings promoted tourism, helping traders and others, the police were ready to go the extra mile. "If the locals do not invest in peace in the Valley, we may not be able to have the desired results," the official said. Around 1,000 security personnel will be pressed into service for sanitising the area for the GST conference, which opens here on May 18 and is expected to be attended by state finance ministers and officials. Another 400 men will be deployed for the security of the delegates, the official said. The Boulevard Road running along the Dal Lake was abuzz with activity last week as the city hosted two mega conferences - the All India Medical Science Congress and the Judicial Conference. "We only hope that the delegates, when they return to their cities, will promote Kashmir as a tourist destination.
Promotion by word of mouth has a better impact than advertisements," a hotelier said. With its prestigious MICE project - an acronym for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions -- the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department's hopes for more such conferences. Efforts are on to promote Kashmir Valley as a destination for meetings, retreats of corporate houses, exhibitions, as well as weddings. "We have been approaching various ministries at the Centre as well as big corporate houses, urging them to hold their meetings in the Valley. Unless they come themselves, they will not be able to understand that the situation in the Valley is not as bad as projected," state Tourism Secretary Farooq Shah said. He said the biggest beneficiary of the initiative would be the common Kashmiri, who makes a living mostly from May to August when tourists visit the Valley. "Now if this common Kashmiri is jobless, I wonder how he will feed his family," he said.
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