Nadeem Baig Dero
Gilgit Baltistan has been a fertile soil for tourism. The 9/11 incident badly collapsed the tourism industry in Gilgit-Baltistan. Hunza has been the center of attraction for tourists and every year thousands of international tourists visited Hunza.
Hundreds of expedition teams were visiting Gilgit-Baltistan to summit K-2, Mashabroom, Gashabroom, Broad Peak, Rakaposhi, Diran, Nanga Parbat, Ultar and many other peaks. The statistics of Pakistan Tourism Industry estimates 0.5 million tourists visit to Hunza only in a season.
After a decade, tourism business has again started gaining momentum and thousands of domestic tourists from the cities of Pakistan and some foreign visitors visited GB during last two years. Hundreds of outlets including restaurants, resorts and hotels were reopened to facilitate the increasing visitors.
Except proving the basic facility of accommodation, the local industry is not is a position to serve the tourists and expeditionary teams according to the hospitality standards. The industry is mostly unaware of the basic rules and regulations of storing, receiving storing and serving food. The professionals are still not aware of the concept of Hazard analysis and critical control points or HACCP, which is used as a standard tool internationally.
We conducted a survey in Hunza to find out the concurrent practices for restaurant management. I visited different restaurants, and the pathetic condition of Food and Beverage (F&B) Production and dining areas of many of the facilities speaks volume about the standards. The travelers were normally complaining about abdominal pain while having food. They were also not happy with the level of cleanliness. The survey team observed F&B production lacks tools and equipment that leads further to food contamination, staff were not professionally trained and many of them were special people. They were not even trained in serving techniques and dinning settings. It was also observed that the owners were even not aware of the hospitality standards.
The solution is to train F&B production professionally. This year tourism department expects a sharp increase in the number of tourists. The question is, are we ready to accommodate and entertain more visitors in Hunza? If not, then what steps required enhancing guest services. The Tourism and Hospitality Department in Gilgit Baltistan is thus requested to take productive steps to meet required international procedures and the basic is follow HACCP, and train staff to enhance guest services, food service and dining room operation.
In this competitive market, sustainable growth of businesses depends upon skillful workforce. Tourism industry is one of the most highly responsive businesses where the clients expectations changes with the pace of time. Unskilled workforce not only reduce the volume of business but also responsible for bankruptcy. The local hospitality businesses are at high risk with unskilled manpower. If this issue is not addressed instantly, it will not only reduce the flow of tourists in this region but the living standards of people of the area may drop drastically.
The Tourism Department Gilgit Baltistan need an assessment of restaurants where foreigners visit the most, train the staff in different fields before converting this lone opportunity into crisis. As a result of increased inflow of tourists in the region and the better services will enhance the living standards of individuals, the professionally trained staff will kick start their own entrepreneurship to entertain more and more visitors.
The writer has Specialization in Tourism and Hospitality Management from Penn USA.