Washington to help bring back Swat’s Tourism to life, Olson

ISLAMABAD: US envoy Richard Olson reaffirmed on Thursday his country’s continued support for the development of Pakistan, particularly through the revival of tourism in Swat Valley, which suffered setbacks due to militancy and natural disasters.

Olson expressed these views while addressing business owners from the valley along with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Governor Engineer Shaukatullah Khan.

The event was organized by US Agency for International Development (USAID) to celebrate economic recovery in the Swat Valley. “The US will support business owners in Swat for boosting the tourism sector in the scenic valley, which is a great attraction for local and foreign tourists,” the ambassador said.

Highlighting the cooperation between the USAID and the K-P government, Olson said that the revenue generated by the tourism sector has increased despite being hit by a series of crises. Hotels and fisheries industries, previously marred by conflicts and floods have increased their sales from $454,000 in 2010 to $4.2 million in 2012, and have generated more than 2,000 new jobs, he added.

“In the wake of damage that had devastated this area over the past five years, the US government and the government of Pakistan mutually decided to priorities the recovery of Swat’s economy in 2010,” said Olson. These efforts have helped create jobs and enhance incomes of the people in the valley, he added.

Praising the US government for its assistance, Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa Governor Engineer Shaukatullah said that the tourism sector had been revived with the support and cooperation extended through its development agency USAID. The governor said that such efforts will be instrumental in discouraging terrorism.

Historically, tourism has been a key economic driver in the valley and at one time contributed $60 million a year to the local economy. Conflict and floods severely damaged hotels and caused a significant decline in revenues. To help jump-start the economic revival, in 2010, USAID joined the Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority to launch a Swat tourism rehabilitation programme.

Under the programme, the United States provided $5.4 million through grants, technical assistance and in-kind support such as construction materials, supplies, and equipment to 22 fisheries and 239 hotels. According to estimates, local hotels now earn eight times more revenue than they did before the project began. Additionally, fisheries too are now generating twelve times more revenue. USAID projects that the Swat Valley tourism industry will continue to grow in 2013, reaching $5 million.