PESHAWAR: Hoteliers in Chitral have demanded Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan clear payments of “quarantine bills”, The News reported on Sunday.
The government owes about Rs34mn to 60 hotels in Chitral since July 2020.
The Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism (CAMAT) chairman Shahzada Iftikhar Uddin, who is a former MNA from Chitral, complained the district administration Lower Chitral for used 60 hotels as quarantine facilities during the COVID-19 lockdown last year.
He said the hotels had been used by the district administration for a period of five months and the delay in clearing the dues had bankrupted the hotel industry.
He alleged that the federal government squandered almost Rs750 billion set aside for tackling Covid-19 but not a single penny was paid to hotels occupied by the government in Chitral.
“Resultantly, the entire hotel value chain is reeling under financial strain as 95% of the hoteliers also must pay rent for an entire year, putting at risk livelihoods of more than 25,000 people across the tourism value chain including transporters, local vendors, and auxiliary enterprises. We are facing a manmade disaster,” he maintained.
He lamented: “To add insult to injury the hoteliers were forced to even pay the utility expenses such as electricity, gas, security, and management salaries while the facilities remained under government use.
He complained that their repeated complaints to the deputy commissioner Chitral and commissioner Malakand and assurances of chief secretary and chief minister in their meetings with hoteliers didn’t go beyond paperwork.
Complaints lodged with the PM’s Complaints Portal turned out to be hogwash and as each complaint triggered an automated response with a message that the problem is resolved and the case is closed, he added.
The CAMAT chairman said in 2020 the hoteliers had invested heavily in renovation and paint but following the forceful occupation of their hotels by the government, the paint in many hotels as well as their assets had been damaged, causing them heavy losses.
Recalling how the appeals of the hoteliers who suffered due to militancy in Swat, followed by a devastating earthquake in October 2015 went unheeded, he said: “This is a glaring example of the state shirking its responsibility and passing its burden in times of crises on feeble shoulders of ordinary citizens who invested their hard-earned money in tourism spots where the business season is only five months in a year.”
Shahzada pointed out that Chitral was featured as the top tourist destination by an international travel magazine, Conde’ Nast but now it cannot even compete with neighbouring districts for tourism revenue.