Tourism continues to reel from pandemic affects

Plummeting revenue leaves cash-strapped provincial department with a deficit


Asif Mehmood June 04, 2021
The tourism department has now planned to prevent illegal construction of hotels and buildings without prior seismic study. PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE:

After being shut for months, many historic sites are finally welcoming visitors. While tourism is gradually limping back to recovery, tourist attractions in and around the provincial capital still have a long road before they can claim the pre-pandemic normality.

According to details gathered by the Express Tribune, consecutive waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, that brought life to a grinding halt, have left Punjab’s tourism department in dire straits.

The extended lockdowns and limited number of visitors have created a substantial deficit for the department, which now appears to be struggling to disburse the salaries of its employees.

A spokesperson of the department confirmed all major sources of revenue were closed for several months. The lockdowns and restrictions imposed to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, he said, has resulted in a deficit of more than Rs36 million. “The resorts in Murree, the Patriata chair lift, and the soft train, were closed. These three projects are the main source of the department’s revenue,” he explained. While most sites are open now, the spokesperson said, it would take some time to make full financial recovery.

According to details gathered by the Express Tribune, almost all-important sites, including museums, zoos, and the famous Lahore Fort have been struggling financially. “Any revenue these sites were able to generate through ticket sales had stopped completely during the pandemic,” said one tourism expert.

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Situated in the northern end of Lahore’s Walled City, the Mughal-era fort was closed during the peak of the pandemic. Spreading over 20 hectares and home to more than 20 other monuments, the site is a major tourist attraction in the provincial capital. While the historic site has been open to the public for some time now, it has very few visitors due to the strict Covid safety protocols.

“Reopening of sites does not mean the tourism department will make a quick recovery. You can’t salvage tourism with a handful of visitors every day,” cautioned the Lahore-based expert. The fort alone, he explained, is now a financial burden on the Walled City of Lahore Authority.

Similarly, the Lahore Zoo, an important amusement park for residents, has been struggling to make ends meet. According to details gathered by the Express Tribune, the site generated Rs. 190 million in 2019. During the pandemic, its revenue nose-dived to Rs.101million. The drop in the zoo’s income has stalled several expansion projects. “The pandemic is like a bolt out of the blue that has disrupted every sector of the economy. There is no doubt that zoos across the province are suffering financially,” said Anwar Zaman, who serves as Lahore Zoo’s director.

Another key attraction, the joint parade between Pakistan and India at the Wagah border has met with a prolonged hiatus due to the pandemic. The echo of slogans that attracted hundreds of visitors on both sides of the fence has been paused indefinitely.

According to estimates from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the global tourism industry is still wading through troubled waters. The tourism sector, the UN said, has posted losses worth $320 billion. “The number of tourists has dropped by 56 per cent between January and May 2021,” the global body added.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2021.

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