Watching tourists going for sightseeing in Kashmir in his early age gave him an idea to go into hotel industry. Though building a hotel those days was a highly hectic job, his hard work and perseverance made him to realize his dream and come up with a premier hotel whose fame was so overwhelming that an important business nerve in the city centre Srinagar, Jehangir Chowk, was named after it. The two decade long unrest in the state, however, stopped his further march to make forays in some other places in Kashmir. Awaiting normality he has plans to establish more hotels at the Valley’s tourist resorts. Managing Partner, Hotel Jehangir, Haji Noor Muhammad, shares his experiences in business.
A peep into your past?
My father was from a middle class family. He was a transporter having a few buses and trucks. Those days one had to work really hard to succeed. My father too worked very hard and put in his great efforts to create a big transport company under the name of United Motors with thirty two buses and trucks, which would take the tourists for sightseeing to Pehalgam, Gulmarg and other places. However, there would not be much foreign tourist flow to Kashmir during those days. Those days the tourists would come only from a few places like Gujarat, Chennai, etc. I grew up watching these tourists going for sightseeing. It gave me an idea that we should go for the hotel industry also, so as to cater to the tourists from various places. My father was financially sound by that time. He bought a hotel namely River View located on the bank of the River Jhelum near Lalla Ded Hospital in 1957. It was a very old hotel. Time passed and I completed my Masters in Chemistry in 1972.
When did the hotel Jehangir come into existence?
Like me, my elder brother too was very keen about the hotel industry. My father acquired land at this place which is now known as Jehangir Chowk for constructing a good hotel. But to construct a hotel at that time was a very hectic job because it was very difficult to get the permission. Besides it was very difficult to get loans that were not easily and readily available. So in order to raise finances we wound up our transport business and disposed every vehicle to construction the Jehangir. We could not get any help from the government because during those days it was not so interested to create the hotel industry in Kashmir. Those days the things were quite different. We were given a loan of Rs 13 lakhs by State Finance Corporation in four years. This loan accrued a huge interest and it became more and more difficult for us to construct the hotel. My father could not tolerate the stress and the problems he was facing that time and he passed away in 1973. After his demise, many of the responsibilities came on my shoulders and I had to pay all the time to the business that affected my education, otherwise I was very much interested to go for further studies. But thank Almighty Allah I am quite satisfied now. I started my business career with the Hotel River View. After the death of my father, it became very much challenging for my brother and myself to get the Hotel Jehangir completed that too without any assistance from the government. It was our hard work and efforts that finally made us to realize our dream and it took us six long years to complete the construction of hotel Jehangir because of the lack of financial availability. Hence in 1976, the Hotel Jehangir (one floor) was inaugurated. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of J&K along with three other ministers attended the inaugural function, which was quite encouraging. Sheikh Sahab was quite satisfied with the construction and the structure of our hotel. We will never forget his help off and on. He has always encouraged us for upgrading this hotel. And Hotel Jehangir finally became so popular that the entire area it is situated was named after it as Jehangir Chowk. The hotel became the pride of Kashmiris for during those days there were only a few hotels in Kashmir. Hotel Broadway, for instance, was coming up those days and there were a few hotels at Boulevard like Hotel Mazda, Hotel Park, Hotel Meadows, etc.
After hotel Jehangir, you did not go for more hotels. Reason?
We were interested to go for some more hotels as well, but the situation that started here in Kashmir eighteen years back prevented us from taking our business further. The tourism was the biggest casualty of the unrest in Kashmir and tourist flow came to zero.
What makes hotel Jehangir different from others?
This hotel is situated in the heart of the city. Whosoever comes to Kashmir from the airport, they come through Jehangir Chowk, which has become a very famous place and business nerve of the city and everybody knows the address of Hotel Jehangir. It adds to the beauty of the Chowk. The first hotel that the people get to see after coming from the airport is Hotel Jehangir. And the customers who come to this hotel feel like at home, because here they get everything in the vicinity, the market is nearby, the airport is very close, the Tourist Reception Centre at a stone’s throw, and then they get facilities like telephone, television, 24 hour service, central heating system, restaurants, so on and so forth. Our staff is very much courteous; they always take care of the customers in a very good manner. And then, this hotel is running for the past so many years, so we have got much experience in the tourism line. We have received the award for maintaining cleanliness and maintenance in our hotel from the Srinagar Municipal Corporation in 1982-83. We are having around seventy employees here right now. The only thing we are lacking right now is the parking space for the hotel, for which we have been trying for the decades very hard. The government has not been so helpful to us for providing the parking to this hotel, which is very essential for such a big hotel.
What about the Hotel River View?
Right now my younger brother is looking after that hotel. But since the time the conflict started here it has not been doing much of business for most of the area around the hotel is occupied by the paramilitary forces. If a tourist has to go inside the hotel, he or she can do so only after crossing the bunkers of the paramilitary forces. So the hotel is not being preferred by the tourists.
What do you think the authorities should do to attract tourists to Kashmir?
You see people across the world are interested to come to this place. The only drawback is that they don’t feel safe over here. That is the only thing that keeps them away. The government should publicize Kashmir outside the state, everywhere in India and even abroad, and make the people sure that there is nothing wrong in the Valley and that they won’t face any problem here. They should use media to lure more and more people to Kashmir. Then the government should encourage people to invest into tourism sector for creating good hotels here. They should subsidize the hotel industry, so that more and more hotels with good accommodation at beautiful places come up. They should create conducive atmosphere over here and the tourists should be reasonably treated in the hotels and also at the places where they visit in Kashmir. The hotel industry is really the backbone of the state economy. It creates employment. You see, every hotel here is employing not less than forty to fifty people.
Do you believe in corporate social responsibility?
I very much believe in the social responsibility. My biggest responsibility right now is towards my family. My children are studying in Los Angeles, United States for the past seventeen years. My wife died in 1998 in the USA, so I am quite concerned for my children. Then I am also sensitive about my responsibility towards the society. I am a member of the FHARI (Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India) and Hotel and Restaurant Association of Kashmir. There we always come up with the suggestions to the government and the tourism sector for the promotion of tourism in Kashmir. We are trying our best to make this trade flourish again. We are holding the seminars and the TTF (Tourism Travel Fairs) outside the state, like in Mumbai, Delhi and other places. And then, we are trying to persuade the people outside Kashmir in every possible way that there is normalcy in Kashmir and that they should come and enjoy stay here. And then, we have been trying all through that the people visiting Kashmir should have a nice accommodation over here. We are very keen to share the responsibility with the government to promote the tourism.
Your other interests?
I spend much time in praying to the Almighty Allah that the things here should get better soon. In fact I am eagerly waiting for the time, when normalcy would return to Kashmir and this place would once again prosper.
Your future plans?
When Kashmir will regain its normalcy I would definitely go for hotels at Gulmarg and Pehalgam, so as to encourage the people outside the state to come to Kashmir.
Your message to the young entrepreneurs?
My message to them is that they should collectively make efforts to promote the tourism in Kashmir in a sincere way and make the people understand that they should be fair enough with the tourism trade.