Whatever recovery of sorts Pakistan’s tourism industry had recorded, the previous month has done a good job in casting a dark shadow over it.
The ongoing political standoff in Islamabad featuring Imran Khan-led PTI and Tahirul Qadri’s PAT against the government has caused quite a bit of damage to the economy. Rupee has depreciated, foreign exchange reserves have slid and the KSE-100 index has seen several days of drastic decrease.
Similarly, the tourism industry has also been adversely affected. Major tourist destinations including Murree, its adjacent spots, Kaghan, Naran, Kashmir and Swat have seen a dip in visitors who tend to go through Islamabad to reach the northern areas.
Among these, Murree, Nathia Gali and Ayubia are the most visited spots because of their accessibility and better infrastructure compared to the rest.
Summer is considered the peak season for local hotels and vendors to earn money. But, unfortunately, this August has not been a favourable one for them. Normally, the sector earns huge profits in summers to sustain for the off seasons.
“Our hotels are usually fully occupied during mid-August and bookings are made in advance, but this political turmoil has proven disastrous for us,” said Hotel One Murree Regional Manager Ali Zeeshan.
There are about 1000 medium- and small-scale hotels and motels along the Murree belt which go up till Abbottabad. The occupancy rates there fell sharply in August.
The hotel chains are claiming around 70-80% low occupancy compared to the previous year. “We have recorded 70% difference this August. We normally have 90% occupancy by August but this year we closed it at 20%,” Zeeshan said.
“People from central, southern Punjab and even from Karachi and other parts of Sindh who usually visit these areas either cancelled or postponed their trips as the government blocked the highway, Grand Trunk Road and the Motorway.”
“Those coming from Sindh usually prefer staying overnight in Lahore or Islamabad before arriving here. Many people book rented cars from hotels or other agencies but sales volume was very low there too,” he said.
“Obviously such leisure trips require money, but since there is a lack of cash flow in the economy, people have postponed their trips,” said Travel Hut Managing Director Wahid Mukhtar.
“Embassies have also advised their citizens to avoid travelling. Hikers, who visited the region, have now headed towards India and Nepal. School and college tours have diminished too. For local tourists, visiting Naran Kaghan areas is also risky as many petrol pumps are closed in the area,” Mukhtar pointed out.
“Seeing the situation, hotels and guest houses closed for business in August, as they saw minimal or no profit coming their way.
“Due to the impediments set on the roads, the area has suffered acute shortage of food items and basic commodities too. Though the supply has been restored, there had been a temporarily hike in prices, which added to the woes of the industry,” said Zeeshan.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2014.