Swat, Mingora: Hotel business in the Swat valley this summer soared up by 10 percent against last year as nearly a million tourists thronged to the summer resort after improvement in the law and order situation, says the hoteliers’ association in Swat.

The picturesque Swat valley in Pakistan’s north has traditionally attracted tourists from across the country in the past to its scenic spots. However, after a brutal Taliban insurgency in the region from 2007 to 2009 and a military operation in its wake, the law and order situation took a turn for the worst. The conflict displaced nearly 2 m people from the region and killed tourism as it kept tourists away from the valley.

“The law and order situation is now far better than what it was seven years ago,” said Zahid Khan, President of the Swat Hotel Association representing more than 330 hotels and 400 restaurants.

This year, said Khan, the industry’s income has soared up by 10 percent against last year with tourists returning to the valley. “Tourists used to be reluctant in the past due to the security situation,” he said. “This year in summer season between April to September, almost 50 per cent of the hotel rooms were packed with guests.”

While there is no evidence if all of them were tourists, figures provided by security officials put the number of vehicles entering the valley at 25000 this season.

“During Eid-ul-Fitr holidays, nearly fifteen thousand vehicles entered the valley,” a security official who didn’t want to be named told News Lens, Pakistan, adding that the numbers showed that people’s confidence in security had been restored.

Zahid Khan thinks the large number of tourists visiting the valley this summer could also be attributed to the fact that the hotels have been charging minimum rent to encourage tourists to return after years of conflict.

“Hotels here charged rents approximately 50 per cent less than those in (the hill resort of) Muree and other scenic places in the country,” Khan claimed. At its full capacity, he said, hotels in Swat could accommodate more than 30,000 guests any given day.

“During years of strife in the valley, almost all hotels were closed for more than four years,” he said. “But after peace was restored, their business prospects improved.”

A Swat based hotelier who wished to remain anonymous told News Lens Pakistan during the ongoing summer season, his income had increased to Rs0.5 million as against Rs 0.4 million last year.

“Two floors of my hotels were reserved for the entire month of August in advance,” he said. “This reflects confidence of tourists in the law and order situation. Such a large number of tourists to the city was beyond my expectation.”

Other than those staying in hotels, some vacationers had booked apartments in the scenic Madyan area, 50 kilometres from Swat’s capital Mingora.

Ali Rehman, a resident of Madyan said he had almost forgotten in the wake of conflict that tourists used to visit Swat and the adjoining spots. But for the last three to four years, he said, tourists have started coming back to his hometown.

“Nearly 20 to 30 apartments were rented by families to spend the summer season here to escape the scorching heat of plains,” Rehman said, claiming that terrorism had been finally defeated.

Abdul Karim, one of the tourists who visited Swat during Eid-ul-Fitr told News Lens that he had come back after more than six years and was amazed that peace and tourism had been restored.

“I don’t feel insecure roaming in the valley even after midnight,” said Karim. He, however, complained about traffic congestion in the city.

In Bahrain, a tourist spot by the Swat River, a large number of tourists arrived this year. Abdul Karim, a local of the area, told News Lens Pakistan that during the months of militancy, markets in the area used to close down before dawn but now they stay open till midnight.

“Both the shopkeepers and hotel owners are happy that tourism, their only source of income, has revived,” Karim said.

Even though domestic tourists have started returning to the Malakand division including Swat, foreign tourists still shy away from the region due for conflict in recent year. Tourism experts say foreign tourists need to be encouraged to visit the area.

Though the years of Taliban insurgency and after it, foreign tourists were required to get permission from authorities to visit the region. Despite the fact that the condition to get a “No Objection Certificate (NOC)” to visit Malakand division has been abolished, foreigners remain wary of the region’s reputation for trouble.

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