Reviving tourism: Aid rekindles hope among Swat hoteliers

SWAT: When Noor Ahmad, owner of a hotel, came back to the scenic Swat valley after the restoration of peace his hotel had been damaged and plundered by the extremists.  “Nothing was left,” he said.

The Taliban insurgency and monsoon floods badly affected tourism causing heavy financial losses to the hotel industry in Swat valley and other scenic spots. The militancy and floods affected about 800 hotels depriving thousands of people of their livelihood, says an official survey.

The militants destroyed 67 hotels completely. Another 107 hotels were damaged by floods, says the survey.

However, Zahid Khan, President Swat Hotel Association said that about 850 hotels were affected and the survey conducted in this respect was faulty.

When the Taliban captured the valley, tourists stopped coming to the scenic valley. In the aftermath of the insurgency and calamity, hotel industry remained neglected in the rehabilitation process.

The battered hotel industry remained neglected until the Richard Holbrooke, the then US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, visited Swat after the July 2010 floods. He was apprised of the losses by the Swat Hotels Association president Zahid Khan. Later, Khan was also invited to the US embassy in Islamabad where he briefed the officials about the hardships being faced by the hoteliers.

The US government has now released the first instalment of $4.5 million (about Rs425m) for the reconstruction of 300 hotels in Swat damaged during militancy and devastating floods last year. The aid comprises cash and goods.

The cash will be paid to the affected hotel owners in four instalments while the goods would be provided in a single go, the sources said.

“There were 800 hotels in Swat which employed around 20,000 people,” said Wakeel Ahmed, general secretary of the Swat Hotel Association.

“On one hand, our business stopped and on the other our hotels were destroyed so we lost not only our livelihood but also the very means of our livelihood,” Ataur Rehman one hotel owner told The Express Tribune.

He added that he sold his car to meet day to day expenses of his family. “We were depressed and did not know how to restart, but this assistance has revived our hope and encouraged us to once again start activities of our lost industry.”

Regarding the distribution of the amount, Ahmed said, “Rs735,000 each will be given to the owner of an A class hotel,  Rs435,000 to B class, Rs200,000 to C class and Rs127,000 to D class. For provision of basic necessities, Rs900, 000 more will be given to the owner of an A class hotel, Rs800,000 to B class,  Rs500,000 to C class and Rs350,000 to D class hotel.”

About the benefits to society from the hotel industry he said, “Hotels indirectly benefit a lot of people here, even a cobbler’s livelihood is attached with this industry; the whole society gets fruit from this tree.”

The assistance from USAID has been given to hotel owners, but hundreds of hotels run on rental basis were deprived of this help. Expanding on this issue, Ibrar Ahmad, one such entrepreneur said, “I had had an agreement with the property owner for seven years. For four years before the militancy everything was good, but since the insurgency l lost Rs600,000. The hotel owner was compensated even though he had already taken rent from me according to the agreement.”

He said although the amount is not sufficient for total rehabilitation, he was still grateful for this assistance, which according to him is a new lease on life. “The money will help us earn livelihoods and give us hope for betterment.”

Around 277 people, including 6 domestic tourists, lost their lives in Swat valley, and thousands of tourists were stranded in the Kalam and Bahrain areas affected by the devastating rain-triggered floods.

Fazal Khaliq
The Express Tribune

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