Gilgit-Baltistan is known as the paradise of visitors. Dating back to 1835, when a British tourist G.T Vigne visited Ladakh Baltistan and other adjacent areas, the geography is serving as a picturesque location for tourism. Over the past one and half-century, thousands of visitors from Asia, Europe, and America have visited these areas. These areas are one of the most beautiful regions in the world. Beautiful and lush green plains, enchanting lakes, high and lofty mountains beautify the geography of the areas which also have the world’s second and ninth-highest peaks i.e. K2 and Nanga Parbat, respectively.

In Gilgit- Baltistan (GB), the tourist season starts in April and continues till November. Hotels and guesthouses are full of these tourists. It is a bitter truth that the region’s economy depends on tourism and trade with China because of its proximity to Xinjiang, an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has affected many countries in the world, including Pakistan.

It has put their economies on the brink of collapse. Gilgit-Baltistan, a very beautiful and remote region of Pakistan, was also badly affected. Hotels and Motels were closed during the epidemic that hurt the local economy. Earlier, the incumbent government had significantly relaxed some rules for visas for foreign tourists, which led to the traveling of many tourists. Bookings were made and in the spring all the hotels were booked for foreign tourists, but the emergence of the novel coronavirus halted the progress.

According to an estimate, the tourism industry suffered a loss of 800bn due to the non-arrival of tourists in Gilgit-Baltistan. The Federal Government has lifted the five-month ban on tourists in Gilgit-Baltistan which was placed owing to fears of the spread of the novel coronavirus and allowed them to resume tourism activities from August 10, 2020. The Gilgit-Baltistan government has also issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) in this regard which have been directed to be strictly implemented. Negative reports of entry into GB under SOPs, details of hotel bookings, and various locations in Gilgit-Baltistan and details of visits must be disclosed.

The entire tourism sector in GB, including the transport and hotel industry was severely affected by government restrictions but now tourists and those associated with the sector are happy and satisfied with the resumption of tourism activities. Subsequently, there has been a surge in tourists in GB. But Dr. Shah Zaman, focal person of Gilgit-Baltistan Health Department revealed that more than 5% of the nearly 2.5 lakh tourists coming to Gilgit-Baltistan haven’t taken laboratory reports which is very worrying and a serious violation of SOPs.

As a result, according to the Gilgit-Baltistan Health Department, the total number of cases in Gilgit-Baltistan has reached to 2,638 out of which 41 are tourists with 2,235 recoveries and 63 deaths at the time of this writing. It should be noted that according to government statistics, 65 to 70% of the economy of Gilgit-Baltistan is linked with tourism. Every tourist who comes to Gilgit-Baltistan stays for at least a week. Meanwhile, foreign tourists spend about Rs. 50,000 while local tourists spend up to Rs. 30,000.

A few days ago, the Gilmat Young Star Club Student Organization has organized a Mountain Girls Premier League football tournament for women in Gilmat Gojal, a sub-division of Hunza district for the students and the public to promote tourism. More than 250 players participated in the event. The inaugural ceremony of the Mountain Girls Premier League Football Tournament was held at Gilmat Gojal, sub-divisional headquarters, Hunza District. The tournament was jointly organized by the local club Gilmat Young Star Club, the district administration and the Department of Sports and Tourism. In its inaugural function, children’s martial arts and cultural dance on traditional tunes captivated the audience.

Gilgit-Baltistan Tourism Department is taking steps to further improve the tourism sector to the best of its ability for tourists. These actions are essential, but to reopen the tourism economy successfully, SOPs need to be followed. There is a need to expedite the screening of tourists on entry routes and to make the requirement of medical fitness certificate mandatory for tourists coming to Gilgit-Baltistan.

The promotion of tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan must be the top priority of the government. For this purpose, the government should take the following steps without any further delay.

  • Strictly implemented the Standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the workers, firms, and travelers:
  • Governments should continue to reinforce their coordination mechanisms to accompany the businesses.
  • Design and direct financial support towards the tourism value chains including the microenterprises.
  • The security of Tourists needs to be ensured.
  • Work with businesses to access liquidity supports, apply new health protocols for safe travel.
  • Restoring traveler’s confidence and stimulating demand with new safe and clean labels for the sector, information apps for visitors, and domestic tourism promotion campaigns.
  • Preparing comprehensive tourism recovery plans, to rebuild destinations, encourage innovation and investment, and rethink the tourism sector.

Through the aforesaid course of action, the tourism sector can be uplifted.

Tehzeeb Hussain Bercha is a writer and poet hailing from Gilgit Baltistan. He is a graduate in Urdu Literature from Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad. His main areas of interest are literature and gender, social issues and peace, philosophy, and politics focusing Northern Areas of Pakistan.

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