With travelling plans both inside the country and beyond on hold ever since the pandemic hit Pakistan hard, it is not surprising that the tourism industry is reeling from the economic downturn. Hill stations such as Murree and other northern areas have seen a significant drop in employment and overall economic activity. The state must turn its attention towards this issue, because even if tourist areas are opened for business starting today, it is going to take a little time before we go back to the booming times before the pandemic.

In many hill stations, there is an entire ecosystem of daily wage tour guides, local climbing experts and a plethora of other independent workers that ply their trade to tourists; it is this group of people the government must target for any potential relief. As a stop gap measure, providing economic support must be made a priority. For many in Murree and beyond, months of little to no income has made survival very difficult – this must be rectified.

However, measures for the longer term will also be needed. As a first step, the government must provide training and awareness regarding coronavirus and the new way of doing business to daily wage workers in the tourism industry. This is needed in order to make them employable, without the tourists fearing any spread of infection once they do end up visiting any vacation spots.

Once this has been successfully implemented, the government must also rethink its tourism strategy, keeping the ‘new normal’ in mind. International tourism will sadly be limited, but there is ample opportunity to explore more avenues to boost local tourism where possible. One quick fix can be spreading out resources to increase the number of sites being invested in, to mitigate the problem of restricted travel opportunities. Before the coronavirus spread became a problem, improving the tourism industry was one of the state’s main priorities in our bid to improve the economy. This must still be the case albeit with some fundamental changes.