Swat Peace/tourism festival

Peace festival and tourism in Swat
By Tahir Ali
(DAWN, Monday, 05 July, 2010)

BEFORE winter every year, Muhammad Rahim would shift his family fromthe cool climate of Kalam to Mardan. But no sooner did the spring season start, he would leave for his home town to serve in hotels there.

“Tourists, both local and foreign, come here in thousands and spend lavishly. I earn a handsome amount that is enough for me and my family for the rest of the year,” he used to say.

But since Swat ceased to be a tourist destination, he didn’t come to Mardan for he had no money to bear the expenses of his family’s temporary transportation and stay there.

Similar is the fate of millions of other Swatis who used to earn their livelihood directly or indirectly from the tourism industry who plunged into abysmal poverty as militancy started taking its toll in the area.

With the Aman festival, being arranged by the provincial reconstruction, rehabilitation and settlement authority (PaRRSA) in collaboration with the Pakistan army, tourism industry in Swat is expected to gain momentum. Locals, however, say a vigorous media campaign is needed for the purpose.

“The success of the campaign hinges on the dissemination of as much information about the event as possible. Besides, information to tourists in several places and the levelling of Bahrain to Kalam road, though temporarily, is also required,” argued Zahid Khan, the president of Swat Hotel Association.

The first phase of the festival started in Mingora from June 29 while the second phase will begin in Kalam from July 11 to 18.

“There will be a 50 per cent discount on stay in hotels including PTDC and Serena. Besides, there would be a discount of about 20 per cent on local handicrafts. A 10 per cent discount on fare to Swat in Daewoo buses has also been announced. There would also be a 50 per cent discount on PTDC transportation and a 30-50 per cent discount on stay expenses in hotels. Food will also be served on reduced rates. We would run this years’ business on non-profit basis,” added Khan.

According to Adnan Khan, media coordinator for the PaRRSA, the festival is a versatile programme.

“During the festival, several programmes such as peace and car rallies, industrial and cultural events, mushaira, dance and musical night, circus, photo exhibitions, cricket and volley ball tournaments, boating and trout-fishing, paragliding will be organised,” he said.

“The event aims at revival of the tourism sector and allied industries, promotion of economic activities and creation of awareness about Swat at the national and international levels. We are hopeful that the event would revive tourism by 30- 50 per cent,” he added.

Zahid Khan also hopes that the festival will attract visitors and revive the badly impacted tourism in the region. “The Mela (fair) being arranged at the famous grassy ground has already attracted thousands of locals and hundreds of tourists. Advance bookings are being made in local hotels. As against the recent past, when life would come to halt after evening, thousands of people are enjoying themselves till late 2am these days,” he said.

“This is phenomenal change. It was the same ground where the militants last gathered in April 2009 and threw an open challenge to the government. It is now a place where beats of music reverberate,” said Nasir Khan, a local student.

“The flocking local females, youngsters, elders and children will not only get an opportunity to enjoy the mela being held after 25 long years and with their shining faces, they will also send positive signals about Swat and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he said.

“The local fruit and vegetable vendors earned a lot when the tourism industry flourished there. This year the famous Swat peaches are being sold at Rs20 per kg as against over Rs100 per kg when tourism flourished,” he said.

Before the rise of militancy, there were around 900 hotels and restaurants in the valley. Most of these were looted or destroyed in bomb blasts and shelling. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs. Allied businesses also suffered heavily.
According to an estimate, the tourism industry suffered over $400 million in Swat in the last nine years. Around Rs8 billion, according to Zahid Khan, was directly lost by the hoteliers.

“But we are yet to get the promised compensation. We didn’t expect that our losses would be compensated. We do hope that the government would offer at least 20-30 per cent of that money so that we could repair, rebuild and refurbish our hotels for the next season,” he added.

…………………

This is How the article was printed in Business Recorder

Revival of tourism in Swat
TAHIR ALI

WEEKEND MAGAZINE (July 10 2010): Thousands of tourists are flocking to attend the Aman Festival in Swat. The festival is arranged by the Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority (PaRRSA) in collaboration with Pakistan army, tourism in Swat. The Switzerland of Pakistan, that had been badly impacted by years of militancy, once again gaining momentum.

Revival of tourism in the scenic valley of Swat is central to the defeat of terrorism and extremism and rehabilitation of people in Swat as millions of them are directly or indirectly dependent upon the sector but it requires a robust media campaign to achieve the goal. “The success of the campaign hinges on the dissemination of as much information about the event as possible. Full pledged and continuous advertisement campaign on print and electronic media is urgently needed. Besides, information to tourist about different places is also required,” argued Zahid Khan, the president of Swat Hotel Association.

The first phase of the festival has started in Mingora from June 29 while the second phase will begin in Kalam from July 11 and will continue till 18th July. The festival is a versatile programme in which there is something for every person according to their taste. “During the festival, several programmes would be held such as peace and car rallies, industrial and cultural events such as basant, puppet shows, mushaira, sufi dance and musical night circus, photo exhibitions, cricket and volley ball tournaments, boating and trout-fishing, paragliding will be organised,” informed Adnan Khan, media coordinator for PaRRSA.

The event aims at revival of tourism sector and allied industries, promotion of economic activities and creation of awareness about Swat at the national and international level. PaRRSA being the primary rehabilitation body, see the festival as a step towards the ultimate rehabilitation of the people. It is hoped that the event would revive badly affected tourism by 30-50 percent” by attracting foreign and local tourists.

“The Mela (fair) being arranged at the famous Grassy ground has already attracted thousands of locals and hundreds of tourists. Advance bookings are being made in local hotels. As against the recent past, when life came to halt after evening, thousands of people are enjoying themselves late till 2.am these days,” he said.

“This is phenomenal change. It was the same ground where the militants last gathered in April 2009 and hurled an open challenge to the government. It is now a place where beats of music reverberate,” said Nasir Khan, a local student.

“The flocking local females, youngsters, elders and children will get an opportunity to enjoy the mela and circus, which is being held after 25 long years. With their shining faces, they will also send positive signals about Swat and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he said. Zahid Khan wants the countrymen to visit Swat and help them revive tourism there on which livelihood of millions depends. Tourists would buy food, fruits, embroideries and other local goods and thus help in reviving the economy and therefore alleviate poverty in the region.

The local fruit and vegetable vendors earned a lot of money when the tourism industry flourished as their yields had more buyers when tourists visits and consumption became high in local hotels. “This year the famous Swat peaches are being sold at Rs 20 per kg as against over Rs 100 per kg when tourism was rampant. This is why we say that development of tourism is pre-requisite for the financial prosperity of the locals,” Nasir Khan informed.

The landscape of Swat is suitable for adventure tourism, eco-tourism, culture/heritage tourism, spiritual tourism, sports tourism, commercial tourism etc but the potential needs to be utilised. Tourism has had fetched the province billions annually until 2000. But militancy has brought about devastations to all sectors of economy including tourism.

There are around 900 hotels and restaurants in the valley. Most of these hotels were looted or destroyed in bomb blasts or shelling. Hundreds of thousands lost jobs. Allied businesses also suffered heavily.

According to an estimate, the tourism industry suffered over U$400 million in Swat in the last nine years and around Rs 8bn of the money, according to Zahid Khan, was directly lost by the hoteliers. “But we are yet to get the promised compensation. We didn’t expect that our losses would be compensated. But we do hope that the government would offer at least 20-30 percent of that money so that we could repair, rebuild and refurbish the hotels for next season,” he added.

The Sarhad Tourism Corporation, a source claimed, is giving no support for the Aman festival. The STC’s website doesn’t have any information on the event. Instead, it has an advertisement on the Shindur festival, which is scheduled to start on July 9 and which is being boycotted by the Gilgit Baltistan government on the plea that it falls within its jurisdiction and that the STC should not meddle into its affair.

Community involvement in the management and security of tourists should also be ensured. “Malamjabba ski resort should be reinstated. Another place Gabinajabba near Kabal, which is covered by snow even in mid June/July should also be developed. Buddhist and Hindu festivals can be arranged. A ski resort at Bishay Kalam can also be developed. There are several natural lakes spread over vast areas but access to them should be made easy and secure,” demanded a Kalam-based hotelier.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2010

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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