By Atta Ur Rehman | Chitral
As a student of tourism and economic development, I would try my best to explain the topic in layman terms in the context of district Chitral.
District Chitral needs no introduction with its unique culture, picturesque valleys, famous treks, lakes, festivals, glaciers, forts, and peace. Nature has a lot to offer to the people who travel to this district on tours and vacations. However, a tourist doesn’t only look for what provides the reasons to travel (demand side) but also for services (the supply side) that are required to make his travel and stay comfortable in the area. For example, besides its natural beauty, forts and peace, one of the reasons tourists throng to Hunza is the KKH. Similarly, the quality hotels available there make the tourists stay comfortable, safe and secure. For the last 3 years tourists’ inflow in Chitral has increased by many times. However, a particular tourist segment is still not able to travel to Chitral due to lack of facilities and quality services. This segment includes the upper class and upper-upper class, and foreigners. The reason being the non-availability of regular flights, poor road conditions and lack of quality accommodation services. The flights usually happen to be two days a week and could be managed thus avoiding the long travel on the road but the lack of quality hotels can’t be worked out overnight. The few quality hotels are booked in long advance and have very limited capacity. On a conservative estimate the top 4 hotels in Chitral town can accommodate about 350 people at maximum. According to sources, Mehtar-e-Chitral and family were once requested by a ‘Culture Trust’ to let them renovate the Chitral Fort in the footings of Altit Fort and Shigar fort and develop into a liveable place of highest standards which was declined by the family. The gap still exists for such a high standard hotel that can provide quality services for the tourists. But the question arises is; How is a four-five-star hotel important for Chitral. Below are few of the reasons that I can think of now;
Branding of Chitral: The foreign tourists in particular and the elite domestic tourist in particular ask, “Is there PC in Chitral? Marriott or Serena?”. Saying yes adds value to the product your offering, the services you are mentioning and the region you are luring tourists to. This helps in positive branding of the region and is one of the indicators of stability, peace, and development of the region. If a multinational company invests in a region that shows that there is something worth visiting in the region. Many foreigners don’t get NOC only on the basis that there are not enough secure places to stay in far-flung regions.
Employment Creation for locals: When you go to a hotel in Quetta, Swat, Multan, Gilgit, etc you will see that most of the people working in those hotels are the local people. It makes economic sense for the companies to hire local people because of cost-effectiveness, low turnover rates and sense of ownership. It is a win-win both for the company as well as the local people. A five-star hotel on an average hires more than 100 permanent staff. According to the standards of five-star hotels by World Tourist Organization (WTO), a 5-star hotel has to hire at least 20 staff for 10 rooms, which means if the hotel builds 50 rooms then that must hire 100 people for maintaining the quality of services.
Associated small businesses: When hotels are built local services and products are needed including vegetables from local farms, fresh meat from the local market, vehicles for transports of goods, cars for dropping and picking guests, laundry services, tour guides, local arts & crafts, and you name it. Some might argue that a five-star hotel has its own laundry or pick and drop. Yes, but not all guests avail those services inside the same hotel. Secondly, a hotel doesn’t have the expertise or time to grow its own vegetables, fruits, honey, and dairy farms. These are some of the local businesses that flourish alongside the hotel industry.
Transferable and Marketable Skills Development for locals: If you are trained in a hotel and gain skills in front office management, sales, cooking, public relations, food & beverages management, housekeeping, etc you are skilled enough to work in thousands of hotels in the industry. You have skills that are required by many in the industry and you are always open to other opportunities in other hotels. There are fewer chances of you remaining jobless.
Thriving social life, events, and entertainment: Hotels also provide space, services and the right environment for social activities such as family gatherings, meetings, conferences, workshops, and local exhibitions. Imagine such things happening in Chitral in much-organized manner and attracting researchers, academicians, companies, and locals to interact with a diverse group of people.
The list is long and you can add more to it but those are the few key areas that are positively affected by such kinds of investments in a region. There are few negative impacts of development of tourism in a region too but four-five star hotels are bound to follow international rules and regulation which protect the local environment. For example, the sewerage and drainage system of the hotel needs not to affect the local environment. The waste is properly managed etc. However, due to increasing pressure from local communities on such matters and local media, international brands such as Marriott, Serena, Park Hyatt, Avari, etc are well aware of the consequences and most of the time comply. And if they don’t they are too vulnerable in terms of their reputation.
I personally think that this is high time that a hotel of such standards should start seriously considering the worthwhile investment. A particular segment of the tourists is reluctant to visit Chitral based on the lack of quality services and hotels. This will benefit the company as well as play a key role in the economic development of the region. For a multinational chain to build hotel in a far-flung region such as Chitral is not very lucrative business most of the times given the seasonality of tourists and lack of supportive infrastructure, however companies with greater vision usually see the multiple benefits that they can provide both to its shareholders and the local communities.
The writer is Business Adviser for Australian Govt Funded Program, Market Development Facility, and is based at Lahore head office. He blogs at http://attasabir.blogspot.com