ISLAMABAD: With the cases of coronavirus rising and international flights not resuming anytime soon, it is less likely that Pakistan will see any of the royalty it received from adventure tourism every year.

Pakistan earned more than Rs40 million last year as the royalty fee from climbing and trekking expeditions compared to Rs20 million and Rs30 million over the past years as the rupee depreciated against the US dollar.

Just when the entire world was going into the lockdown in February, the Gilgit-Baltistan Council and the Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) had received applications from 25 climbing expeditions and as many trekking groups.

Adventure seekers, including veteran mountaineers, mostly from European countries, had applied for permits to travel to the northern areas.

According to the ACP, applications are processed and permits issued by May and groups start arriving after middle of June to climb five of the highest peaks in the world such as K2, Nanga Parbat and Broad Peak.

Groups usually start arriving after middle of June to climb K2, Nanga Parbat and Broad Peak, says ACP

“To attract even greater numbers of international adventure tourists and especially climbers, Pakistan had reduced the royalty fee by 40pc. And just when we were starting to get more and more adventure seeking tourists the coronavirus hit us and it has taken a toll on the tourism industry,” ACP Secretary Karrar Haidri told Dawn.

According to the ACP, in Gilgit-Baltistan, where the Karakorum peaks are located, the regional council requires no permit to open areas. However, in the restricted areas, adventure seekers need a trekking permit and must pay to ascend higher than 6,500 metres. This fee varies with altitude and is based on a group of up to seven people. After the 40pc discount, the group fee was reduced to $7,200 for the second highest mountain in the world - 8,611 metre-high K2.

Each additional member beyond seven was charged $1,200. Similarly, the group fee for 8,001 metres and 8,500 metres was reduced to $5,400 and each additional member the charges were $900. For peaks as tall as 7,501 metres and 8, 000 metres, the new group fee was $2,400 and each additional member had to pay $300.

Likewise, the government charged $1,500 from groups intended to climb 7,001 metres and 7,500 meters peaks and each additional member was to pay $180. And to climb 6,501 metres to 7,000 metres, the group fee was set at $900 with each additional member paying $120.

Although these fees are already low, further discounts are sometimes also available, said the ACP.

Earlier this month, tour operators and the ACP besides other concerned stakeholders developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) to assist the government to restore tourist activities.

They argued that several countries had demonstrated that Covid-19 transmission from one person to another can be slowed or stopped if effective measures were adopted. The document was addressed to the collective tourism sector such as hotels, tour operators, travel agents, transport companies and similar establishments.

The SOPs refer to drivers wearing protective gear, temperature checks at hotel entrances, protocols to use elevators and dining at restaurants, separate check-out areas, training and healthcare of staff etc.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2020