Tourism sector pleads again for bailout package

ISLAMABAD: Tourism experts have pleaded for a grant of soft loans and cash assistance for tourism businesses and low-paid workers under the government’s loan and emergency cash schemes for ensuring the sector’s survival next year.

“Anticipating global recession due to the second and third waves of coronavirus pandemic, low-paid workers and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) should be included in the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme and Prime Minister’s Kamyab Jawan Programme to provide the required support to the ravaged sector,” said Sustainable Tourism Foundation Pakistan (STFP) President Aftab Rana.

“Cash grants to the daily wagers associated with tourism, relief package for travel and hotel industry, and concessionary loans for SMEs are the need of the hour to protect the sector to fight against the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” he said, urging the government to focus the domestic tourism which in his opinion was a sole option to achieve the sector’s rebound in the coming years.

Rana, who is also a member of National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB), said that although the government had introduced some loan schemes for the sector, their criteria was not accommodative for a large number of unregistered entrepreneurs.

“There is no need to take short-term measures for foreign tourists as it dipped by 90 per cent in the country due to worldwide travel restrictions,” he said, adding that less than 100,000 foreigners had visited Pakistan during this season.

In pre-covid times, the country usually received 700,000 to 800,000 foreign tourists per season, he added.

Highlighting the coronavirus impact on domestic tourism, he said tourism in northern areas plunged significantly as only 500,000 tourists visited the scenic spots in that area after the government lifted mobility restrictions from the tourism sector in August.

At least 1.5 million tourists visited the northern parts of the country in the last season, he added.

Aftab Rana said international arrival had declined by 90 per cent, mainly due to international travel restrictions, the demand of covid certificate and economic recession that caused a reduction in buying power of the people.

“So, 2021 should be dedicated to domestic tourism to ensure its survival and 2022 for formulating future plans and extensive promotion and marketing to make sure the sector’s rebound,” he stressed.

Qamar Abbas, a member National Tourism Committee, said the situation of hotel and travel industry was bleak as its occupancy rate had declined by 62 per cent in recent month.

The tourism businesses totally relied on domestic tourism and all the restaurants and hotels had adopted a safe-to-stay policy to attract customers. “Domestic tourism is leading the recovery in the post-covid scenario,” he added.

He said the hotels had to bring flexibility in their policy such as refund on cancellation of bookings and introduce some incentives for tourists to prevent the economic impact of covid.

Qamar also called for promoting online platforms for the travel agents so that they could reach potential customers through digital channels.

On the other hand, an official from the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) said a comprehensive tourism promotion package would be rolled out soon to promote the country’s tourism as a customised brand.

He said the federal and provincial governments were taking measures to mitigate the financial impact of coronavirus on the tourism businesses.

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