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Peace-pill to rejuvenate Kashmir hotels

New Delhi, May 11: The thaw in Indo-Pak relations has a spin-off benefit for strife-torn Kashmir: an anticipated surge in tourist arrivals.

The state, reeling under cross-border terrorism for over a decade, is looking forward to an increase in tourist inflow after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee offered a hand of friendship to the nuclear-armed neighbour.

The hoteliers have already started counting on it. Lalit Suri, chairman-cum-managing director of Bharat Hotels, is eyeing a four-star ITDC property in Gulmarg which is a half-complete structure overlooking the verdant, undulating fairways of the highest golf course in the world managed by the Indian army.

“I am interested in buying the ITDC property in Gulmarg if they plan to put out any tenders or sell it,” Suri told The Telegraph.

“Our research report says that it is a beautiful property overlooking the golf course. I would like to refurbish this incomplete structure into a five-star deluxe hotel,” he said. Suri manages the Intercontinental franchise in Delhi.

However, ITDC doesn’t want to sell it. Like Suri, it has also woken up to the opportunities that a peace dividend in the sub-continent would throw up in Kashmir.

ITDC chairman-cum-managing director Amitabh Kant said, “There is no question of selling this property. The land was given to us by the Jammu and Kashmir government on lease years ago.”

There has been no construction at the site for the past 10-12 years as it has been one of the many victims of a decade of violence in the valley.

“The structure is just a shell of concrete. The contractors ran away when the terrorists swarmed across the state,”Kant said.

ITDC feels that if peace returns to the valley, the hotel could draw a lot of custom from the golf aficionados and adventure-seekers who want to hit the Gulmarg ski trails nearby.

“There is a running skiing institute close to this property which ITDC is building for the ministry of tourism. We have already completed 70 per cent construction. The issue of parting with this property does not arise at all now,” said Kant.

Considering improvement in Indo-Pak political and diplomatic relationship in the near future, Suri said he hopes to make some good business from his five-star deluxe hotel, The Grand Palace Intercontinental in Srinagar.

“This hotel is the hottest selling property in Srinagar. Right now, the occupancy rate is at a low of 15-20 per cent. However, as Indo-Pakistan ties improve and safety perception of tourists change, this hotel is set to witness high tourist inflow from around the world,” Suri said.

Bharat Hotels’ Srinagar property was bought from Karan Singh about six years back at a price of Rs 38 crore. Suri has invested more than Rs 90 crore on refurbishing this hotel which has been in operation for the last four years.

Originally built in 1910, the Grand Palace Intercontinental in Srinagar was formerly the palace residence of the maharajas and one of the leading heritage resort hotels of the country.

The hotel, which overlooks Dal Lake, has 122 rooms, including 16 suites. A nine-hole golf course and a jogging track are part of the bouquet of guest facilities available. Additional facilities include a health centre, private cottages, an indoor swimming pool and a tennis and squash court.

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