Having sustained massive losses last year due to the pandemic, the local tourism industry was hoping for a revival this year. The season has commenced, but the ongoing third coronavirus wave has dampened the spirit yet again. While the federal government continues to disavow a fresh round of lockdowns, the crisis is at risk of escalating. The authorities imposing strict mobility restrictions cannot be ruled out.
The pandemic toll is felt across the globe. As per a latest report by the World Travel & Tourism Council, which is the global body representing private sector players that work with the governments, the pandemic had caused an economic loss of about $4.5 trillion in 2020 alone, wiping away half of the industry’s contribution to global GDP. Moreover, 62 million workers have been laid off worldwide, with millions more earning less than they used to due to reduced hours and furlough schemes.
Another poor season may prove to be catastrophic for tourism-dependent businesses in Pakistan. Background discussions with tourism experts suggest that many large-sized hotels, resorts, restaurants and tour operators were somehow able to weather the crisis last year, thanks to their holding power and access to concessionary loans, debt deferments and payroll financing schemes by SBP. These businesses will be further tested this year if things worsened, but they may be able to withstand.
However, the small and medium entities operating in the tourism industry weren’t so fortunate. Unable to pay for employee salaries, many such businesses had to close shop. As for smaller entities that had survived the initial jolt in the April-July period of lockdown-induced lull in tourism traffic, the easing of restrictions in August helped provide them some organic recovery in incomes. Now more struggle awaits them.
Globally, the viral impact on tourism has spilled over into 2021. For instance, tourist arrivals in early 2021 were lower by 87 percent over last year, as per the UN’s World Tourism Organisation. With gradual pick-up in vaccination drives across Europe and North America, global tourism bodies are expecting travel and travel to resume with some force by June 2021, with a sizable recovery in employment by middle of 2022.
With habitual foreign travelers unable or unwilling to venture overseas during a variant-laden pandemic, it is the domestic tourist whose return to the natural landscapes is expected to provide a much-needed breather to income-starved tourism businesses and households in Pakistan. It wasn’t like foreign tourists were coming to Pakistan in droves pre-pandemic, but visa-related relaxations in 2019 had increased the flow. Adventure tourist may come back sooner, in line with recent global trends. But it is still a waiting game.