Swat Tourism

Economy of Swat tourism

Most of the 900 hotels in Swat were either looted or destroyed and various tourism-dependent sectors heavily suffered.

By Tahir Ali

With Swat, the Switzerland of Pakistan, gradually returning to normalcy, can one hope that the badly-damaged tourism industry there will reach its pinnacle? Though officials assert that the peace festival coordinated by the provincial reconstruction, rehabilitation and settlement authority, Pakistan army and the local tourism industry has somehow revived the industry, much still needs to be done.

The revival of tourism in Swat is vital to defeat terrorism and extremism but it requires several steps on part of the government. “Increased budgetary allocation, enough share in foreign funds meant for the area and a full-pledged continuous advertisement campaign on print and electronic media are urgently needed besides tourist information centres at several places,” argues Zahid Khan, President all Swat Hotel Association (ASHA).

“For the revival of tourism, community involvement in the security of tourists and development of communication infrastructure will have to be ensured. Malamjabba ski resort has got to be re-opened. Road to the beautiful Gabinajabba near Kabal should also be developed. Archaeological sites should be protected and developed, and Buddhist and Hindu festivals can be arranged,” says Khan.

“There is no communication and no mobile service and no TV transmission in some upper parts of Swat. Roads are difficult to travel on. Paithom, KP’s only tourism training institute, and the PTDC hotel in Kalam is still used by security forces. How can one hope of a hundred percent revival of tourism industry in this backdrop,” Khan adds.

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. “Swat has over 400 Buddhist sites in Swat Valley only. There are 14 beautiful mostly unknown lakes in the valley. It’s both ideal for summer and winter tourism. There is much to enjoy now but we need official patronage,” Khan says, adding, “We want the world to know that the people of Swat are friendly and good-natured people. They have nothing to do with militancy and terrorism. They are supporting the government against militants. Swat is now even more secure for travelers than it has been,” he says.

According to Adnan Khan, media coordinator for Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), the festival was a big step towards the revival of tourism sector. Latif Bhatti, a Gujrat-based tourist, says the mela at the grassy ground bore symbolic significance. “It was the same ground where militants in April 2009 had challenged the state. Thanks to Pak Army, it is now a place where youngsters dance to the beat of drums. The flocking local females, youngsters, elders and children send positive signals about Swat and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

Around three million tourists came to Swat during the festival. “Though the number was much less than that of the good old days, it was anyhow encouraging. We are happy over the massive response. There was so much jubilation that even the suicide attack in Mingora amidst the festival could not deter or frighten tourists,” Khan says, adding, “The middle class was conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps they were either unaware of the festival for lack of sufficient advertisements about it and did not turn up due to financial crunch. “

He accuses the provincial and federal governments as well as Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) and Sarhad Tourism Corporation (STC) for being disinterested in the revival of tourism in the region. “Neither of them had funded special advertisement campaign for the festival. Only the PaRRSA issued advertisement for us. Nothing was done by anyone else. Provincial ministers did come here but they only attended and addressed functions with no practical help,” he complains.

A thorough study of the Malakand related plans reveals that the sector has been altogether neglected and no allocations have been made for it. The sector has been allocated Rs0.67b or 0.9 percent of Annual Development Programme in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s budget this year. As far as the federal sector development programme (PSDP) this year, the sector has been allocated just Rs0.125bn (or 0.018 percent) in the total PSDP of Rs663bn. There is no mega Swat-specific project in the local and foreign components of both the ADP and PSDP either.

Syed Aaqil Shah, provincial minister for culture and tourism, says the KP government under is fully committed to development and revival of tourism in the region, “The Chief Minister visited Kalam last month and announced a hefty package for the area. In coming months, you will see concerted efforts to revive tourism in Swat and other areas.” “Swat and KP have vast Buddhist archeological sites and the government is mulling a special package for the people of Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka to visit these sites,” adds Shah.

Tourism in Pakistan has been badly affected by instability, indifference of government, militancy, poverty and price-hike. The number of foreign tourists reached upto 0.9 million in 2006 but their number came down to 0.84mn in 2007 and to 0.82mn in 2008.

Most of the 900 hotels in Swat were either looted or destroyed and various tourism-dependent sectors heavily suffered. The tourism industry lost over U$400 million in Swat alone and around Rs8bn of it, according to Zahid Khan, was directly lost by the hoteliers. “But no compensation has been given as yet. If the government can’t compensate us for the entire losses, it should provide us fifty percent compensation and interest free loans so that we can repair and redecorate hotels,” adds Khan.

Shah says losses would duly be compensated soon if funds promised by the federal government and foreign countries become available. Rehmat Din Siddiqui, general secretary of Kalam Hotel Association, says the government should develop a ski resort at Bishay Kalam and should arrange a chairlift facility there. “Also, the government can construct an international sports stadium and an international wildlife park near Kalam Bazar,” he says. Secretary tourism KP and Managing Director STC were not available for comment.

The proposed new National Tourism Policy intends to provide compensation to the Swat hotel industry for the losses they suffered between the year 2007 and 2009. Saleem Abbas, a private tour operator, says the public and private sectors must join hands to revive the Swat tourism industry.

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

3 Responses to Swat Tourism

  1. Sharafat Khan says:

    It is a good and informative piece. But In a time when entire Pakistan is mourning the colossal losses caused by floods, it doesn’t make sense to talk of tourism. Does it?

    • Tahir Ali says:

      Thanks for your appreciation. As far the timeliness of the piece, it is because it was written and published when the flood calamity had not hit the country. your comments are welcome

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