Coronavirus scare hits religious tourism hard

Published March 13, 2020
Tour operators suffer losses worth millions of rupees owing to suspension of flights. — AP/File
Tour operators suffer losses worth millions of rupees owing to suspension of flights. — AP/File

PESHAWAR: Coronavirus scare hit religious tourism hard as haj and Umra operators and travel agents in Peshawar complained that they suffered loss worth millions of rupees in a single day after Saudi government’s announcement of suspension of flights to several countries including Pakistan on Thursday.

The travel ban was announced for Pakistan among other countries and citizens of Saudi Arabia in the affected areas were given 72 hours to return to the kingdom, according to the state news agency SPA and report in Gulf News.

The Saudi government’s announcement had a direct impact on the religious tourism in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where travel agents and tour operators said that they suffered financial losses. The provincial capital had more than 1,000 such tour operators.

“We have lost millions in a day as many people had booked tickets and even rented building for those going to perform Umra. The people will be asking for their money back if their tour is cancelled. We are faced with huge loss,” said Jalil Jan, a haj and Umra tour operator.

Tour operators suffer losses worth millions of rupees owing to suspension of flights

Religious tourism industry was hit hard due to suspension of flights of international airlines and travel ban by Saudi Arabia. The only airport in the province -- Bacha Khan International Airport -- has also seen a sharp decline in the passengers’ number despite the fact that a large number of people go for work and pilgrimage to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Countries.

“There is a 50 per cent drop in the number of passengers,” said an official source. The international airlines had also dropped the number of flights due to recent travel ban and coronavirus fear.

“The flights number has come down to seven only from 31 a month at Bacha Khan International Airport Peshawar. The airport with some 158 flights is showing the effects of coronavirus fears on travel and tourism industry,” an official told this scribe on condition of anonymity.

Azmat Akbar, an operator, said that coronavirus fear had not only hit the religious tourism but also domestic and international tourism. “I have suffered financial loss of more than Rs1 million recently,” he added.

Mr Akbar said five trips booked with his travel agency were cancelled. A group of tourists from UK cancelled the trip after Qatar Airways announced cancellation of flights. Another group from Malaysia, Turkey and Iran also cancelled the trip due to fear of coronavirus.

The coronavirus fears lurk everywhere but people in Peshawar, crowded and bustling provincial capital, are going about their daily routine without much precautionary measures.

The markets have already seen shortage of protective masks and many people still move about doing their daily businesses without wearing a mask or using sanitizers.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2020

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