Islamabad: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government is struggling hard to attract foreign and domestic tourists through various initiatives for revival of tourism sector of KP, adversely affected by terrorism, militancy and natural disasters, provincial tourism officials says.
Zahra Alam, media manager for Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP), told News Lens Pakistan as normalcy returned to the province, the government moved to promote the once vibrant sector to bolster local economy and increase government revenue. Since Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) came into power in the province in 2013, TCKP has taken many initiatives for revival of tourism, she said.
“A dual purpose chairlift and a zip liner have been installed at Malam Jabba, Swat for serving the skiers and general tourists.” Among the fresh initiatives, she said 19 government rest houses have been already handed over to the TCKP to facilitate tourists.
Eleven of the rest houses are operational including Forest Cottage Nathiagali, Forest Rest House Dunga Gali and Retreat House Nathiagali, she added.
“The rents of the rest houses are lower than private hotels in tourists’ areas which charge an exorbitant amount from tourists,” she added.
The government plans to garner at least Rs. 50 billion investment from tourism sector over the next few years, she said, without elaborating timeframe.
“The rest houses are peaceful and there is no security risk,” she added.
According to KP Public Service Coordinator, a group that serves community, the first terror attack on tourist site was in Malam Jabba (Swat), the only ski resort of Pakistan, which was torched by militants in June 2008, causing a loss of Rs. 60 million to the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC). That ski resort has now been opened again.
Similarly, it said the other big blow to tourism took place on June 22, 2013 at the Nanga Parbat’s base camp when ten foreign climbers and a local tourist guide were gunned down by terrorists.
Terrorist activities and military operation in areas like Swat have been responsible in shrinking tourism industry, it stated.
The rest houses, Zahra Alam recalled were previously a huge burden on the exchequer as officials would book them for months for their own vacations. “The total number of tourists (domestic) in year 2015-16 was approximately one million, while their spending or revenue generation is approximately Rs. 50 million,” she added.
According to documents obtained by News Lens Pakistan, the Tourism Policy, approved by the provincial cabinet in 2015, addresses key priorities such as transforming the sector into an engine of economic growth. The policy includes development of tourism and allied infrastructure such as parks and cultural centers, toilets, rest areas, camping sites, roads, hostels and signage.
“The KP tourism sector is on take-off position in terms of revenue generation and tourists’ number,” Muhammad Usman Mehsud, a top administrator in Upper Dir where a renowned tourist resort Kumrat Valley is located, told News Lens Pakistan.
Imran Khan Chairman PTI’s visit to Kumrat Valley two months back was a source of inspiration for tourists who flocked to the area soon after his visit, he added.
Kumrat Valley is less explored because of certain reasons such as dilapidated road condition and dearth of other facilities. The lush green valley has several meadows, dense forests amid majestic mountains and springs, said Mehsud.
Since, TCKP has taken over the rest houses, the revenue has increased to 3.9 million from 2.9 million in a year, said Mehsud.
“I earned Rs. 100,000 in a single day as tourists’ arrival to Kumrat Valley gains momentum,” said, Amir Shah, a baker who runs a small roadside eatery. Mehsud ruled out any security risk to tourists but suggested an awareness campaign to make attitude of locals more tourists’ friendly.
According to the Tourism Policy, Security and Safety and easing unnecessary restrictions for visitors are top priorities of the government.
“Tentage site with camping pods with all basic facilities and tourist hosting eco-friendly and portable infrastructure will help promote sustainable tourism in the province,” the policy added.
In addition, setting up of huts, sleeping bags, water proof tents and camping pods to be installed. As a cardinal principle, only bio-degradable materials are allowed to be used in the camping activities.
Solar power generator will be installed in the entire camping site, the policy stated, adding fire extinguishers, first aid medical equipment are also provided in each camp.
Zahid Khan, president Hotels Association in Swat region, told News Lens Pakistan that violent campaign by Taliban in Swat valley in 2007-2009 led the entire tourism sector of the province collapsed. “During those two years, the tourism sector received a total loss of Rs. 7.5 billion,” he recalled.
However, he said a surge is registered in tourists with their strength reached to 180,000 during the last year after normalcy returned to the area.
Two years back, Khan recalled, tourists were reluctant to visit Swat valley because of dozens of security check posts on way leading to Swat Valley.
“After our repeated requests, those security check points are reduced to five, which helped increase in number of tourists,” he added.
To a question, Khan said, only domestic tourists are coming while foreign tourists are waiting for the situation to turn completely normal.
The roads leading to tourist area are in shambles with poor communication and health facilities, he said. The government can attract millions of tourists if it ensures provision of facilities, he added.
There are no more security threats to tourists because of huge security forces and police deployment in the whole region, said Khan.
According to a research paper released in 2014 by Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), ‘Economic Cost of Terrorism: A Case Study of Pakistan’ Pakistan has suffered a loss of Rs. 2,083 billion in the war against terror between 2004- 2005 and 2008-2009.
“We’re holding series of meetings with all the departments concerned to provide every facility to the tourists,” Mehsud concluded.