Tourists throng Swat valley

Rafiullah 

SWAT: The resilience of the Pakistani citizens can be judged from the fact that soon after the relaxation in the coronavirus lockdown, thousands of tourists thronged Swat’s serene valleys to kill their boredom and enjoy the pleasant weather and natural landscape.

Swat is one of the most popular destinations for tourists from all over the country as it offers multiple scenic places. Every year, a large number of tourists visit Swat’s different valleys including Kalam, Madyan, Bahrain, Maho Dhand, Malam Jaba and Marghuzar to enjoy its pleasant weather.

The tourism industry suffered a lot due to the coronavirus pandemic as the government had banned the entry of visitors in the areas frequented by tourists. However, the government’s decision to relax the lockdown helped the tourism sector regain the impetus and tourists have already started visiting their favorite places.

As many tourists couldn’t visit the areas of their choice when the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak in Pakistan last summer, they are happy that the ban on tourists’ entry to Swat has finally been lifted.

Faiza, who hails from Charsadda, feels excited upon her arrival in Swat for the first time after relaxation in the lockdown. She says she used to come every summer along with her family and enjoy the pleasant weather of Swat but due to the coronavirus pandemic, they couldn’t visit Swat earlier.

“We were feeling bored at home due to the lockdown. I am very happy that I have finally come to my dreamland to spend vacations,” an excited Faiza remarks.

Bilal, a resident of Bajaur tribal district, is also happy over the reopening of tourist spots. While enjoying along with his friends in Fizagat Park, a recreational area on the bank of the Swat River in the vicinity of Mingora, he tells TNN that he has been enjoying pleasant weather and a serene environment. He has a week-long schedule and plans to discover Swat’s different valleys including Malam Jaba, Kalam, and the surrounding areas.

A large number of tourists can be seen in Fizagat Park, a popular destination for tourists visiting the Swat valley. Since it is situated on the bank of the Swat River, people come here to enjoy the stream of freshwater.

The local guides at the tourists’ information center in Mingora also seem excited as the tourism-related activities gear up in Swat because they were also affected by the lockdown. Akbar Ali, one of the tour guides, feels content that the tourism sector has been restored. “The coronavirus pandemic affected the global economy and we are no exceptions. We also lost jobs for about three months but now things have changed and tourists are coming to Swat,” he adds.

Ali is also annoyed by the media’s projection of the recent flood in Swat, saying the media unnecessarily created hype and reported the damages caused by the flood out of proportion.

“The tourism sector had just started gaining momentum but the irresponsible reporting by the media during the recent rains and flash floods panicked the visitors and the majority of them had to leave Swat while others postponed their tours,” Ali says.

He maintains that only three villages were affected by the recent flash floods but the media showed that the whole Swat has been swept away.

“Most of the TV channels showed images of 2010’s floods which scared the people and forced them to leave. Floods and earthquakes are natural calamities and cannot be stopped. It is good that people still visit Swat in large numbers and we are here to welcome them with open hearts. The more they come, the greater our businesses will flourish,” a positive Ali adds.

About 80 percent of the people’s economy in Swat depends either directly or indirectly on the tourism sector. Zahid Khan, president of the local hoteliers’ association, says that the tourism industry suffered about Rs10 billion losses in the last season due to the coronavirus pandemic. He further says that more than 25000 people lost jobs due to the lockdown.

According to a rough estimate, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Swat every summer between March and August as this period is the peak of the season. The tourism sector generates billions of revenues for the local people running hotels, restaurants, tour operator groups, and other businesses. Sadly, this year, many hoteliers could not manage to meet their expenses and converted their buildings into hostels, clinics, or offices.

According to the provincial tourism department, there are about 471 hotels and 671 restaurants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, there are hundreds of other facilities in the Malakand and Hazara divisions that are not registered with the relevant authorities.