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    Citizen Voices

    How To Increase Tourism In Swat

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    Along with plenty of natural resources, Pakistan is blessed with a diverse range of tourist destinations. Several historical and cultural heritage sites attract countless tourists from abroad and within the country each year turning tourism into a growing industry. According to the world travel and tourism council, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Pakistan’s economy in 2016 was 6.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while in 2019 it was 7.2%. Even Pakistan was marked ‘The Best Holiday Destination’ for 2020 by a prominent travel magazine. However, this sector – despite being potentially more lucrative – has since the beginning been ill-treated and neglected in Pakistan. Notwithstanding, Mr. Khan’s untiring efforts to boost tourism, still the need of time is to take up tourism rather in practical terms and make it flourish as it can contribute, according to an estimate, more than Rs1 trillion to the Pakistani economy.

    Tourism in the northern areas has got momentum and developing at a faster pace with improvement of the means of communication, but most of the locals are disappointed with the frustrations they face in the days when hundreds of thousands of vehicles flock to these areas whereas the region lacking the ability to absorb them. Amid these regions, Swat is one of the most beautiful tourist spots in Pakistan which is ignored in developmental terms. People around the country visit Swat in summer vacations especially on cultural occasions such as Eid.

    Although in the past Swat underwent an unfortunate period of security problems, however, the region is now one of the safest tourist spots in the country: as one can experience that from the hustle and bustle of the main business hub Mingora city and the current record innumerable tourists’ influx to the valley. Not a single case of crime has been reported of any residential individual with any visitor in the last few years. New banks and several new hotels and restaurants have been constructed in various places from Piya up to Kalam along the riverside which makes the environment very conducive for visitors. There are more than six hundred hotels in Swat of which more than four hundred are in Bahrain and Kalam. There is no regularization of these hotels and no categorization ever done. Several houses are made for the seasonal guests in Bahrain and the upper regions, where the visitors find refuge from the sweltering summers of the cities. Further, in different regions, the valley has PTDC motels, but they lack any guest houses.

    Swat is culturally and lingually divided in between upper and lower swat: lower swat has Pushto speaking people while upper swat – mostly mountainous regions – has a multilingual population relying mostly on agriculture and tourism but due to worst weather in the winter season these regions’ people migrate to other cities in search of livelihood. The infrastructure in the upper swat was destroyed in the floods of 2010 but after a decade still, most of the bridges are under construction. The main Bazar Bahrain bridge was destroyed in the 2010 floods and has yet not been reconstructed despite being one of the busiest and only links between the regions. The road in upper Swat from Madyan via Bahrain and Kalam to Gabral and Mahudand lake is twenty feet wide consequently, on such a short-width road the tourists, as well as locals, intensively suffer when hundreds of thousands of vehicles choked the road.

    Recently, during the Eid holidays, according to the swat motorway officials, around ninety-thousand vehicles entered Swat carrying almost eight lac people. These people had the hardest times as they reached in ten hours to travel from Mingora to Bahrain – a distance which takes around two hours on normal days. The traffic not only created troubles for the visitors but also the locals could not step out of their homes. The ambulances were stuck in the traffic for hours as there is no alternative route to be passed on. Furthermore, Swat has beautiful valleys in the upper regions but due to the lack of infrastructure tourists cannot reach there and their stay in the main small cities rendered innumerable problems for the local people and the administration. The tourist department’s irresponsible over-exposition of Swat valley has left the local administration unprepared for the influx of visitors to be properly handled, whereas the local retailers and small shopkeepers have found freehand to artificially skyrocket the prices of petrol and other commodities.

    Moreover, upper Swat especially Bahrain and Kalam have no accommodative capacity to deal with such floods of tourists which results in tourists stay out of shelters. Most of the visitors spent nights in their vehicles or on the roadside in Bahrain and Kalam regions, partially owing to the high unchecked rents collected at hotels. The garbage is thrown at streets and before houses as there is no proper trashing system. There are only two small parks between Bahrain and Kalam and people resort to the bank of the river swat for their cooking and lunches which time and again has drowned many lives but still, no heed is paid on the part of government and local administration. There is no first aid dispensary at the mountainous sides even there isn’t a functional hospital in Bahrain and Kalam. The injured and serious patients are driven from Kalam via Bahrain to Mingora – almost a ninety kilometers distance.

    The frustrated tourists concerned about the facilities that must be provided for materializing the tourism vision of the prime minister. The government’s insincerity with tourism might delay its fruits which can be a better source for propping the shambled economy of the country.

    The government must pay attention to the northern region. The influx of tourists can be lucrative temporarily but it literally, in the long term, can plunge the tourism industry to death since the visitors instead of enjoying the natural scenes in the idyllic valleys suffer in the jammed traffics causing also a negative impact on the local population as innumerable vehicles choking roads, block communication and other means of social affair. The tourist department must understand the repercussions of over-advertisement amid the scarce resources to handle such tourist influx. In Swat, the urgent need is to erect a new road on the eastern side of river swat from Madyan up to Kalam for the easy flow of traffic. The government must also investigate the bridges which after a decade have not yet been constructed. Through the construction of infrastructure and routes to high mountainous spots many jobs can be created for the locals and in the harsh winter, no migration will take place. The well-constructed infrastructure can attract tourists in the winter thus making the valley a safe place both for the visitors and the locals.

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