Revival of tourism in Swat

Revival of tourism in Swat

Internally displaced persons return to Swat. – File photo by AP

Internally displaced persons return to Swat. – File photo by AP

WITH the restoration of public confidence in sustainable peace in Swat and improved road infrastructure in its upper parts, the picturesque valley drew multitudes of local tourists this year.

Swat, called the Switzerland of Asia, usually attracts a large number of tourists in this season of the year. The Kalam-Mahodand tourism festival held from July 12 to 16 attracted over one hundred tourists, according to Zahid Khan, president of All Swat Hotel Association (Asha).

“Hotel occupancy was 100 per cent and locals even rented their guest houses to accommodate those who could not find rooms in hotels. The festival provided the badly needed support to local handicraft-makers, transporters and other businesses dependent on tourism,” he said.

All this was made possible by Pakistan Army engineers by making the routes navigable after constructing bridges and repairing roads to Kalam and Mahodand, the scenic resort located some 35km northeast of Kalam.

Though the Bahrain-Kalam and Kalam-Mahodand roads are mostly Katcha, these can be used even by small cars. Some adventurers had also reached the valley on motorbikes in groups.

Colonel Arif, incharge Inter Services Public Relations in Swat, said the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) would construct proper road from Bahrain to Kalam by next season with the UAE assistance.

“In its bid to attract more and more tourists, Asha last year had announced free stay at hotels for three days and subsequently subsidised stay-packages for the visitors. This year, the hoteliers were so confident that they didn’t announce any special discount for their customers.

Public transport is now available to Kalam from Mingora. And what was an added advantage that per passenger fare from Bahrain to Kalam had come down to Rs120 from Rs300-500 last year.

At night during the festival dozens of tourists went up and down the Kalam bazaar dancing to the noisy beat of music played in cars or by drums beaters. However unlike the golden days of Swat tourism, foreigners were conspicuous by their absence, although there was no restriction on their visit.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general and Swat in particular is suitable for tourism but it has been badly impacted by militancy, indifference of the government and raging poverty.

After the landmark 18th constitutional amendment, the tourism sector has been devolved to provinces but meagre budgetary allocations and failure to invest in upgradation of tourism resorts continue as in the past.

This sector was allocated just Rs0.67bn or one per cent of the provincial ADP in 2010. It was increased to Rs1.22bn or1.4 per cent in 2011 and Rs0.68bn or 0.7 per cent this year.

The 2010-17 strategy for the province’s development has allocated Rs14.3bn or 1.5 per cent of its total outlay of Rs960bn. Zahid Khan said some major steps were needed to fully revive tourism in the region.

“Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had promised that the Swat Express Way would be built/linked to the Peshawar Motorway but nothing has happened.

The Tourism Corporation of KP should construct roads or provide chairlift facilities to Deeshan and Boyu valleys, two picturesque valleys lying west and east of Kalam bazaar. Similarly ski resorts should be set up there. Walking tracks to several lakes such as Condol Lake in Uthror Kalam and Bishgram Lake in Madyan need to be constructed. The Malam Jabba chairlift also needs to be restored to facilitate tourists and skaters. Road to the beautiful Gabinajabba near Kabal is awaiting development,” he said.

The government should also construct an international cricket/sports stadium and an international wildlife park near the Kalam Bazaar. “The hotel industry should be provided donations or interest-free loans for repairing and upgrading their hotels from the $9 million and $12 million funds given to Smeda by the Multi Donor Trust Fund and the USAID respectively for rehabilitation of small and medium enterprises in the region,” he added.

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

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