By Wisal Yousafzai
Just before the tourism industry in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) could turnaround, the second wave of the deadly coronavirus has struck like a lightning bolt, causing billions in losses.
According to details released by the K-P tourism department, all international tour groups that usually arrive around this time of the year, have been cancelled. Since March alone, the department said, the province has lost billions in revenue that is generated from tourism-related activities.
“In March 70 tourists visited K-P and the department lost more than $140,000. In April, the total losses crossed $200,000, and by July, after a total of 111 groups cancelled their visits, the losses crossed $18,00,000,” said a report issued by the tourism department.
According to the department, the occupancy rate at hotels across the province, particularly tourism spots, has plunged significantly.
A total of 16,14562 rooms were cancelled during the peak of the pandemic between March and July 2020.
“The hospitality industry, which is now fighting for its survival, has suffered the strongest blow during the pandemic,” said one expert.
Total losses, according to estimates provided by the tourism department are over Rs. 6,458,248,000. Along with the hospitality industry, a wide range of local businesses have also taken the hit.
Local gift shops, transporters and restaurants desperately need a financial lifeline. “More than 400 hotels and 450 restaurants had to shutter during the first wave,” said Haji Zahid Khan of the Swat Hotels Association.
Khan serves as the body’s president in the scenic Swat Valley.Tourists, Khan said, spend more than Rs. 2,500 per day during their stay in the area. And that, he said, fuels the economy in the region. The season, Khan said, ended with a whopping loss of Rs. 115 billion.
Khan said the pandemic has crippled the local economy. As hotels close down, he said, unemployment has reached its highest. According to Khan, more than 8,000 people have lost their jobs in the area since March this year.
“The government promised financial assistance for the industry in Malakand and other areas in K-P. So far, we have not received any help,” he said. Taking a potshot at the government, Khan said: “They allow rallies to take place in the province without anyone following the health protocols, but hotels can’t be permitted to remain open even while they follow all SOPs.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2020.