ISLAMABAD: Since September 11, 2001 the hotel industry of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) has been in a freefall due to various reasons, and the hoteliers have had enough.
“The industry has faced losses of billions of rupees and almost 70 per cent of the employees associated with the tourism industry have been rendered jobless,” said Ali Madad, the president of Hunza Hotel Association (HHA).
The natural beauty, hospitable people and peaceful environment made G-B a significant attraction for tourists, both local and foreign, and the tourism industry was a key source of earnings for many.
All that changed with the terrorist attack on September 11. Foreigners, who were also the biggest spenders and a source of word-of-mouth advertising for the region, began avoiding this part of the world.
Madad opined that despite the fact that G-B is a peaceful valley without any presence of terrorists and extremists, tourism took a bad hit because of the negative portrayal of Pakistan abroad following 9/11.
The hotel industry was a key source of employment and income in G-B and the living standard of locals have spiralled downwards since. “Thousands of cooks, tour operators, transporters, shopkeepers and tour guides lost their jobs due to the financial crunch in the hotel industry,” he said.
The 2005 earthquake further damaged the region’s reputation. According to Madad, even though the region survived the earthquake unharmed, the media reports and the use of the name Northern Areas (former name of G-B) confused potential tourists. Media reports referring to the northern parts of Pakistan (Azad Jammu and Kashmir and northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) misled many into staying away from the region, said Madad.
Then came the Attabad landslide disaster, carving out a whole new lake in G-B. Media predictions that the lake walls could give way and flood the downstream areas created a panic among people and kept them away throughout the lucrative spring season.
The final blow for the industry in the region came in the form of heavy rains and floods during the 2010 monsoon, which devasted infrastructure and caused billions of rupees in losses to locals, Madad said.
He demanded the government write-off loans against hoteliers and promote tourism in the area by holding seminars, conferences and meetings in G-B to attract tourists. The number of flights coming into G-B should also be increased, he said.
He said that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had announced a package for the revival of G-B hotel industry in 2009 but it never materialised.
Raja Hussain Khan, another HHA official, suggested that the government should facilitate diplomats and foreigners in visits to G-B by maximising the number of flights on weekends. He added that USAID had provided businesses with a “loss fund” for the areas where businesses were ruined by floods and terrorism but the G-B hotel industry did not get a share.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2011.
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