Tourism picks up in N. Areas
3 April 2004
GILGIT: Tourism in Northern Areas has started gaining momentum with the onset of spring as hundreds of the Japanese tourists have thronged Hunza valley for celebrating Cherry Blossom Festival. Tour operators and managers told Dawn that over 600 tourists from Japan flew into Hunza valley in March for the celebrations of the festival with which the Japanese have great cultural and spiritual attachment. They said they were expecting equal arrivals of the Japanese tourists to Hunza in April for celebrating the festival. Tourism is the mainstay of the region's economy, which slumped during the last three years. But this year, 80 per cent increase had been registered in the flow of foreign tourists, Amjad Ayub and Khurshid of a travel agency said. 'The Northern Areas suffered the heavy blow when Pakistan went nuclear in response to Indian nuclear blasts in 1995 and escalation of tensions on the eastern border, but the events that followed 9-11 ruined tourism in the region,' they said. Due to these events, a loss of Rs600 million was incurred and over 12,000 workers, directly or indirectly affiliated with tourism, were rendered jobless. Almost all the tourist-class hotels, guest houses and motels, local handicraft shops and cottage industries were the worst hit, a tourism expert Mohammad Ismail Khan said. But, he hoped, tourism would regain the lost footage this year as the thaw in Indo-Pakistan relations would prompt more foreign tourists to visit the region. Tour operators in Gilgit said they had received a large number of reservations from foreign tourists for July-August in connection with the golden jubilee celebrations of K-2 to be held in Skardu this year. Official sources claimed that the government was earning an estimated foreign exchange of Rs800 million every year from the foreign tourists in Northern Areas.