Ban on people’s entry to Neelum angers tourism industry

MUZAFFARABAD: In view of reported spike in Covid-19 cases as well as decisions of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) and the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government, the administration in Neelum valley has slapped a ban on the entry of tourists from July 19 to July 29.

A notification to this effect, issued by Deputy Commissioner of Neelum on Monday, however, triggered strong anger among the people affiliated with the tourism industry in the picturesque valley, who said it was the “worst manifestation” of the AJK government’s “double standards”.

The notification said the ban would apply to the whole of AJK but in particular to Neelum valley where the number of visitors from across the country surpasses the rest of the territory owing to its breathtakingly beautiful tourist locations.

The notification, which was addressed to the officials concerned and the presidents of guesthouses association and transport union, said that in keeping with the ban no bookings in the guesthouses and of the vehicles should be made after July 18 and the already made bookings should be cancelled.

It warned that legal action would be taken in the event of violation of the ban.

Interestingly, the order was issued less than 48 hours after two huge political gatherings held in Neelum valley under the aegis of AJK’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

In their reaction to the ban, people affiliated with the tourism industry announced that they would stage a protest demonstration on July 15.

“If hundreds of activists can visit Neelum for political events while brazenly disregarding the so-called precautionary measures regarding Covid-19 right under the nose of the entire government and no one in the administration bothers about it, why they are banning private visitors who mostly are the families and observe precautions,” said a guesthouse owner.

He told Dawn that he and other hoteliers had received advance money for bookings during this period and spent the same on different heads, such as salary payments, rent and other purchases.

“Where from will we return the amount that we have already spent to the persons whose bookings you ask us to cancel?” he asked.

The guesthouse owner who did not want to be identified maintained that long holidays helped his community earn as much amount as could meet their recurring expenditures during the lean period.

He said if the government was bent upon stopping tourists it should offer a package to the tourism industry people so that they could meet their unavoidable expenses.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2021

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