By Fakhar Alam
MALAM JABBA, April 05 (APP):Like other parts of Pakistan, the spring season of blossoming flowers and chirping birds has also arrived in the most scenic tourism destination of Malam Jabba but the hotels lying deserted, chair-lift empty and ski resorts have been shut down due to looming fears of corona pandemic.
The tourism industry is about to face yet another setback following the one witnessed about two decades ago when Talibanisation had crippled the industry in Swat valley. The tourism activities have come to a standstill in picturesque valley due to closure of hotels, restaurants and public transport in wake of the corona pandemic lockdown.
Pakistan is a highly attractive country for foreign tourists where the three world highest mountains ranges, Hamalya, Hindukash and Karakuram meet besides a home of ancient Indus and Ghandhara civilizations, historical monuments, cultural diversity and ancients archeological sites at Moanjodharo, Harapa, Mehar Garh, Taxila, Swat, Hassanabdal and Takht Bhai.
Malam Jabba which is 10,000 feet high from sea level on Koh Hindukash Range, is about to bear the brunt of Corona pandemic after imposition of restrictions on citizen’s unnecessary travelling and closure of tourists destinations by the KP Government.
From Five Stars hotels to “Charpi” (locally made bed) restaurants along with eateries shops in the vicinity of Malam Jabba, which usually remains overwhelmed by domestic and foreign tourists during the months of March and April, is now giving a totally deserted look. Thousands of hotels from Mingora to Malam Jabba and onward Bhrain to Kalam are closed, leaving thousands of workers jobless.
Talking to APP, Wali Khan, Manager, Serena Hotel at Saidu Sharif said, “Coronavirus has plunged tourism industry in Swat, which is the main source of income for locals, into worst crises. Thousands of hotels including Pearl Continental Malam Jabba, Swat Continental Mingora and Serena Saidu Sharif are closed for visitors.” He said, “We have closed bookings for visitors since February last due to novel COVID-19 crises besides returning all reservation charges for June-August season to tourists and tour operators.”
The Manager said, “Tourism sector had witnessed tremendous growth during last three years as over 0.8 million people had visited Swat, Dir and Malakand districts in 2017 with 20 percent significant increase in 2018 and 2019 due to construction of Swat Expressway, making direct positive effects on national economy.” He said this upward trajectory in tourists’ flow has also been observed in the first two months this year after successful holding of national winter sports festival 2020 organized by Tourism Corporation KP (TCKP) and this growth continued unless coronavirus has struck.
Wali Khan said approximately 7,000 big and small hotels including 3,000 in Mingora, Saidu Sharif and its surrounding areas and 2,000 in scenic Madain, Kalam, Bahrain and Malam Jabba with over 50,000 workforce was closed due to substantial decrease in arrival of foreign and domestic tourists in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.
Former Ambassador of Pakistan, Manzoorul Haq said, “I love Swat because of its natural beauty, rhythmic waterfalls, lofty snow-covered mountains, green pastures and home of ancient Ghandara civilization. He said that the corona virus is likely to make negative effect on hospitality industry worldwide including Pakistan and a mega economic package would be required for its revival, he added.
He said thousands of workers associated with tourism industry were unemployed due to lockdowns and travel restrictions, adding Federal and KP Government relief packages to give Rs5,000 per month to each poor household for next three months were not sufficient keeping in view of the prevailing price hike and two months unemployment. He demanded a package of Rs20,000 per month to each deserving household and workers of hotels industry minimum for one year to help stand them on their own feet.
Sajjad Hameed, General Manager TCKP said Chief Minister KP has announced Rs11.40billion mega relief package to help poor, daily wages, vulnerable and labourers in wake of coronavirus crisis. He said poor people and jobless workers associated with tourism, hotels, agriculture, construction, wholesalers, transport, restaurants and manufacturing sectors would be provided Rs5,000 per month initially for three months including Rs3,000 share of Federal Government that would benefit around two million poor families in KP.
Similarly, under PM economic relief package, Rs200 billion allocated for the labour class and Rs100billion for SMEs besides giving Rs100 billion tax refund to businessmen, exporters and industries.
The GM said mechanism for implementation of CM relief package has been prepared and disbursement of payments to vulnerable segments including tourism jobless workers would commence in few days.