Life returned to many picnic spots after relaxation in lockdown.

PESHAWAR: The government’s decision to relax the coronavirus lockdown has widely been hailed particularly by those associated with the tourism industry. Earlier in March, the government had imposed lockdown in the country to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, as a result, most of the iconic picnic spots and tourism sites in the culturally rich Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had become completely deserted.

As the lockdown was relaxed and tourism sites and picnic spots were opened, a large number of people started visiting their favorite locations with their families and friends to spend their luxury time. The government has mandated the use of face masks by the public while going out.

The inflow of tourists to the picnic spot has spread joy among the people associated with the hotel industry as this business was severely affected by the lockdown.

Closure of local picnic spots have rendered scores of people jobless.

Imran, who owns a restaurant at Sardaryab, is also excited after the reopening of the tourists’ spots. Sardaryab is one of the many tourist attractions where people frequently come on weekends with their families and friends for excursions.

Situated on the bank of Kabul River in district Charsadda, it is popular for fresh fish eating and boat riding. Other fascinating tourists’ spots in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa include the Kund Park and Hund Park in district Swabi, Kalam, Malam Jaba and Marghuzar in district Swat and the mountainous Hazara division.

Imran hopes that his business will gain momentum with the reopening of the picnic spot as tourists have started coming to the river bank for excursions.

“Our businesses have suffered a lot during the lockdown and now we hope that things will change,” Imran remarks while talking to TNN.

He appeals to the public to follow the SOPs while coming to the site lest the government impose another lockdown if the corona virus spreads.

Before the lockdown, Imran’s sale was touching the Rs 50,000 mark but now the daily sale has reduced to Rs 8,000. “Our businesses will definitely flourish if people continue to come for outing,” he hopes and wishes that the corona pandemic may end soon and the routine hustle and bustle at these spots restore.

Jan Muhammad, who manages all the activities at Sardaryab, tells TNN that the lockdown has affected the livelihood of hundreds of people who run different business at the site.

“There are dozens of hotels of fresh fish. We have more than sixty people who operate boats in the river to earn livelihood for their families. Some people have invested in installing swings for kids and adults. In a nutshell, everyone was affected as they had no other means of earning,” Jan Muhammad, who is also the president of the local hoteliers’ association, maintains.

“The whole area was totally sealed for about three months and ten days. We will not be able to recover the losses in the next five years which we have incurred during the lockdown,” he remarks.

Head of local hotel association talking with TNN correspondent Muhammad Tayyeb in Sardaryab.

Apart from the hotel owners, other people who work on a daily-wage basis suffered the most. As Jan Muhammad narrates, more than a hundred orphan kids are working as waiters and attendants in different hotels, who couldn’t find any alternative job during the lockdown. He complains that the government didn’t pay heed to address their grievances nor they were helped out in terms of cash assistance during the difficult time.

When contacted, Latif ur Rahman, a spokesman of the provincial tourism department, says that the government has assessed the losses of the major tourists spots during the lockdown, adding an estimated Rs10 billion losses have been incurred by the tourism industry. He, however, explains that this assessment doesn’t include the losses faced by the small hotel industry and businesses being run at the local picnic sites. “We have collected the data of only three sectors in the major tourist spots such as tour operators, restaurants and hotel industry,” he adds.

Latif ur Rahman continues that the government has doled out millions of rupees to help the affected people through the flagship Ehsas program.