KP’s neglected tourism sector

Tourism sector is still reeling from the impact of the lockdown

Despite the lifting of the coronavirus restrictions, tourism activities have not fully resumed in the Northern Areas.

Talking to The News on Sunday, Swat Hotels Association president Haji Zahid Khan says that coronavirus restrictions have severely affected the valley’s hospitality industry. “The Swat district alone is home to around 450 hotels and many restaurants. The hotels in Swat district provide employment to around 1.5 million people. Swat’s hotels industry suffered a loss of over Rs 8 billion due to the lockdown,” he claims. He says they have not been paid any compensation by the tourism authorities or any other agency.

“We are following all the SOPs, such as using masks, gloves and sanitisers. The government’s recent decision to lift the lockdown has provided the people an opportunity to throng to the scenic locations. However, the reopening of tourist spots after the lifting of the lockdown has not benefited the tourist handlers, hoteliers and others attached to the sector as floods in various areas washed away tonnes of trout fish. The tourists were asked to leave the area due to the floods.”

According to official estimates, more than 90,000 people of Malakand and Hazara divisions are directly involved in tourism industry. This includes 56,000 daily wage workers. Malakand and Hazara divisions are home to most of the tourist spots of the province.

“More than 90,000 residents of Malakand and Hazara division earn their livelihood from the tourism industry. The government has neither announced an incentives package, nor provided any compensation to help them after the coronavirus lockdown,” says Zahid Khan

In KP, there are a number of events that attract tourists in large numbers. These include the Galiyat Snow Festival, the Tour De Galiyat Cycle Race, the Off Road Jeep Rally, the Heritage Walk and the Heritage Site Photography Competition, all organised in Galiyat region of Abbottabad district.

Chitral district is home to several tourist events including Chilimjusht Festival, Broghil Festival, Qaqlasht Festival and Shundul Poli Festival. Several festivals are organised annually in Malakand division, including the Malam Jabba Snow Festival, the Kalam Festival in Swat and the Kumrat Festival in Upper Dir.

The head of Kalam Hotels Association, Dr Abdul Wadood, says that around 10 years ago, the government had announced plans to set up a chairlift in the valley but that the project has not been implemented so far.

“The Tourism Department is not doing anything. We haven’t received any assistance from tourism authorities after the lockdown. The Kalam Festival used to be held annually. However, it has not been held for four years. If they can’t hold festivals and can’t advertise our scenic locations, what else are tourism authorities doing for tourism promotion,” he adds. He also complains that the authorities do not consult them on tourism related events and festivals in the Kalam valley and Swat district.

The writer is a journalist based in Peshawar and a PhD candidate. He tweets    @peoplefriendly

Coronavirus: KP’s neglected tourism sector