In Pakistan, a women-led startup wants to change tourism for the COVID era

Tourists, both local and foreign, travel through the valleys of Hunza, Pakistan, on Dec. 23, 2019. (Photo courtesy: The Mad Hatters/Instagram)
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Updated 25 August 2020

In Pakistan, a women-led startup wants to change tourism for the COVID era

  • Root Network is working toward creating a more sustainable tourism industry by encouraging responsible travel during the pandemic
  • The startup was launched last month by a group of female travelers and development professionals

RAWALPINDI: Pakistani startup Root Network is working to create a more sustainable tourism industry in Pakistan by encouraging responsible travel in the COVID-19 era, the company’s founders said, as authorities closed two dozen hotels in the country’s northwest after dozens of hotel employees tested positive for the coronavirus.
Pakistan opened almost all sectors of the economy, including tourism, earlier this month, after shutting them down in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Thousands of people have since thronged to the country’s picturesque northwest, especially the mountainous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Gilgit-Baltistan region, raising fears about new breakouts in remote areas.
“Restarting tourism in Pakistan is necessary for economic recovery, but precautions must be taken to ensure it is not at the expense of local communities’ health and safety,” said Aneeqa Ali, co-founder of Root Network and founder of The Mad Hatters, a travel company that offers tours of Hunza and the greater Gilgil-Baltistan area.




A photo from the Instagram account of tour company Mad Hatters shared on July 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy: The Mad Hatters/Instagram)

Root Network, which says it has reached 80 percent of its financing needs through crowdfunding, was co-founded by a group of female travelers and development professionals last month over a shared belief in the importance of responsible travel.
The startup’s aim is to create an equitable and inclusive tourism industry in Pakistan by increasing access to meaningful economic opportunities for local communities, promoting their culture and heritage, and advocating responsible travel practices.
In this regard, Root Network has devised training manuals that help local tour companies, operators and guides simplify and apply internationally recognized COVID standard operating procedures that locals can adopt. The group is educating hotel owners, tour guides and operators, and porters about measures they can realistically impose against the coronavirus, and emphasize the importance of changing tourism tactics in a COVID era.
“It’s more than just safety, it’s also about economics and the motivation of bringing money back in through being an attractive destination to foreign travelers,” Ali said, talking about the vast tourism potential of Pakistan’s mountainous north. “We want them [local communities] to know that hygienic practices and the ability to provide safety specifically because of COVID is now going to become a hot demand of foreign travelers and they need to adapt to meet it.”




A tour guide from Passu, Hunza, with a tourist in Hunza on Aug. 4, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Root Network/Instagram)

The training has a number of incentives for local tourism beneficiaries, including that they will be paid for their time, provided with kits that include masks, sanitizers, pop up sanitizer stations, and thermometers, and are assigned local ambassadors who ensure guidelines are adhered to.
Laila Rajani, an anthropologist who focuses on Pakistan’s Kalasha people who live in three remote valleys in north-west Pakistan and preserve an ancient way of life, including animizt beliefs, said adapting tourism to the COVID era necessitated working closely with local communities.
“My partners and I are very aware that we are outsiders and it’s not easy for local communities or institutions to trust somebody who is coming in and telling them how to live,” Rajani said. “It was important to Root Network since the beginning to have strong partnerships with local organizations.”
Two such organizations include the Karimabad Area Development Organization and Aga Khan Rural Support Program, both of whom have strong ties to the area. Root Network is also collaborating with local NGOs, medical professionals, and tourist facilitators themselves.
Last year, Pakistan said it would loosen travel restrictions in the hope of reviving tourism by offering visas on arrival to visitors from 50 countries and electronic visas to 175 nationalities.
Those reforms, approved by the cabinet, were meant to open up a new era for the tourism industry, which was devastated by Islamist violence after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
But the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the plans for the Pakistani government, as it has for administrations around the world. Global tourism revenues are expected to fall by up to $3.3 trillion due to COVID-19 restrictions, with the United States standing to lose the most, the United Nations said last month.
“Our plan is to use this initiative to see and spread something to begin a long term relationship that would allow for sustained support down the road,” Root Network co-founder Turfah Tabish said.
“The tourism sector of Pakistan has proven its resilience time and again, and survived through many difficult challenges,” Ali added. “Once it regains its foothold, it has the power to help spur economic activity that will bolster other industries as well. Thus, it is imperative that we provide tourism professionals with the right tools, resources, and relief packages to survive the pandemic and bounce back.”


PM proposes ‘national dialogue’ to reform Pakistan’s state of affairs 

Updated 8 sec ago

PM proposes ‘national dialogue’ to reform Pakistan’s state of affairs 

  • PM Shehbaz Sharif warns against ‘internal division’, calls for unity 
  • Starting point for national dialogue can be ‘charter of economy’— Sharif 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday urged all stakeholders in the country to move toward a “national dialogue” to resolve Pakistan’s complex issues, on the occasion of Pakistan’s 76th Independence Day. 

Pakistan is celebrating 75 years of freedom from British rule in the subcontinent. On August 14, 1947, British India was divided into the two states of India and Pakistan. 

The political temperature in Pakistan is on the rise, with former prime minister Imran Khan levelling allegations against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the coalition government of being part of a US-backed conspiracy to oust him from power earlier this year. 

“We need to have a national dialogue so that the mistakes of the past can be clearly identified,” Sharif said during a flag hoisting ceremony in Islamabad. “We need to start a sincere struggle to reform [Pakistan’s] state of affairs,” Sharif said. 

He said that starting point for national dialogue can be the “charter of economy.” 

“If we [Pakistan] can become a nuclear power, why can’t we become an economic power,” he asked. 

In his written message earlier, the prime minister said Pakistan’s creation was an outcome of its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s single-minded devotion, unflinching resolve and unwavering struggle. 

“Nothing is more dangerous for a nation than internal division; disruption and chaos, for such negative forces undermine the solidarity and integrity of the country and rob societies of their national purpose,” he stated. 

“We can push back the divisive and nihilistic forces with the power of the people and protect our freedom and identity. I have my full faith in their capabilities to chart a way forward,” Sharif stated. 


Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Pakistan on Independence Day 

Updated 14 August 2022

Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Pakistan on Independence Day 

  • Saudi leadership wishes “steady progress and prosperity” for Pakistanis 
  • Islamabad, Riyadh enjoy deep-rooted, cordial ties with one another 

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman congratulated President Arif Alvi on Saturday on the occasion of Pakistan’s 76th Independence Day, the Saudi State News Agency (SPA) said. 
On August 14, 1947, British India was divided into two countries, India and Pakistan. Every year, Pakistanis celebrate their independence from British rule with fanfare and festivities throughout the day. 
Islamabad and Riyadh have always cherished close diplomatic relations and are collaborating in various sectors. 
In their messages, the Saudi leadership wished President Alvi health and happiness and hoped Pakistan’s masses enjoy steady progress and prosperity. 
“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has sent a cable of congratulation to President Dr. Arif Alvi, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, on the anniversary of his country’s Independence Day,” the SPA said. 
In his message, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “wished the President constant good health and happiness and the government and friendly people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan steady progress and prosperity.” 
Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis and has been the top source of workers’ remittances to the South Asian nation. 


Military says reports of TTP's large presence in northwestern Pakistan ‘grossly exaggerated’ 

Updated 14 August 2022

Military says reports of TTP's large presence in northwestern Pakistan ‘grossly exaggerated’ 

  • Militants will be dealt with full use of force if required, says Pakistan Army 
  • Thousands protested in Swat on Friday over reports of TTP militants’ presence in area 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s military said on Saturday that reports of a large presence of Pakistani Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley are “exaggerated and misleading.” 

Thousands protested in two main towns of Pakistan’s Swat valley in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Friday. Protestors took to the streets to denounce violence after reports that said Pakistani militants had increased their presence in the area. 

The TTP have carried out some of the bloodiest attacks inside Pakistan since 2007, including a 2014 assault on a school in which 134 students were killed. The group is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, but pledges allegiance to them. 

Pakistan military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement that a misperception about the alleged presence of a large number of TTP’s armed members has been created on social media over the past couple of days.  

“After confirmation on ground, these reports have been found as grossly exaggerated and misleading,” the ISPR said. “Presence of a small number of armed men on a few mountain tops between Swat and Dir has been observed, located far away from the population,” it added.  

The military said that these individuals “sneaked in” from Afghanistan to resettle in their native areas, adding that security forces are keeping a close watch on their limited presence and movement in mountains.  

“Required measures are in place by all LEAs (law enforcement agencies) for the safety and security of the people of the adjoining areas,” it said.  

“Presence of militants anywhere will not be tolerated and they will be dealt with full use of force if required.” 

Swat Valley used to be a TTP bastion in 2009 before a military operation by Pakistan’s army drove them out, causing thousands of families in the region to be displaced.  


Monsoon death toll climbs to 188 in flood-ravaged southwestern Pakistan

Updated 13 August 2022

Monsoon death toll climbs to 188 in flood-ravaged southwestern Pakistan

  • Provincial disaster management authority reports six new deaths over last 24 hours
  • 582 people have died in rain-related incidents across Pakistan since mid-June

QUETTA: The death toll from rain-related incidents since the onset of monsoon season has killed at least 188 in Balochistan, authorities said on Saturday, as rains continue to lash the southwestern Pakistani province, triggering flash floods.

Monsoon rains have wreaked havoc in Pakistan since mid-June, killing at least 582 people. Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by size and its most impoverished one, has reported the highest number of casualties.  

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) recorded six new deaths in rain-relates incidents in the past 24 hours.

“Six more bodies were recovered in the last 24 hours in Balochistan’s Killa Abdullah and Lasbela districts who were swept away in flash floods due to heavy rains on Friday,” Meer Zia Langove, advisor to the chief minister on disaster management, told reporters in the provincial capital, Quetta.

PDMA Balochistan director general Naseer Khan Nasir said four out of Friday’s six deaths were recorded in Killa Abdullah district, where the victims were trying to cross a flooded road.

Many roads are impassable, and traffic has been suspended also on the Quetta-Karachi highway due to the overflowing of the Lunda River in the Lasbela district.

“Our teams are fully engaged with the National Highway Authority (NHA) to clear the roads. It will be opened for traffic in the next 24 hours,” Langove said.

“Twenty-six out of 34 districts in Balochistan are badly affected by monsoon rains and floods which destroyed 40,000 homes and crops cultivated on 500,000 acres of agricultural land.”

Last month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited the province’s worst hit areas, ordered immediate aid for their residents, and set up a relief fund for flood victims.

According to Pakistan’s Meteorological Department (PMD), the coming week may bring even more torrential rains to the region.

“Flash floods are expected in Killa Saifullah, Loralai, Barkhan, Kohlu, Mosa Khel, Sherani, Sibbi, Bolan, Kalat Khuzdar Awaran, Turbat Panjgur and other cities of Balochistan,” the PMD said in a notification on Saturday.

Downpours are also forecast for the provinces of Punjab and Sindh province.


Pakistan to expand COVID-19 vaccination to children next month as cases rise

Updated 13 August 2022

Pakistan to expand COVID-19 vaccination to children next month as cases rise

  • Government expects to receive vaccines and special syringes by next week
  • Pakistan Medical Association says vaccine for children is safe and effective

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government said on Saturday it will start vaccinating children aged five to eleven against COVID-19 from mid-September as infection figures are again on the rise.

After reporting a significant decline in COVID-19 cases earlier this year, Pakistan did away with almost all coronavirus restrictions. It has been witnessing a spike in infections since June, although health authorities say the situation largely remains under control and has fully vaccinated against COVID-19 over 88 percent of the population aged above 12 years.

“We will be starting COVID-19 vaccination of children aged between five to eleven years by mid-September,” Muazzam Abbas Ranjha, a vaccination lead at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad told Arab News.

“The process for procurement of the vaccine and special syringes for the purpose is underway, and we’ll be receiving them next week.”

Ranjha said that Pakistan has done “extremely well” in immunizing its population against the pandemic and that’s why the numbers of deaths and infections have remained low compared to the neighboring countries.

“Now it’s time to immunize our children against the disease to curb the virus spread,” he said. “It is vital to administer the vaccine to our children as well to immunize the whole population against the virus.”

The country has conducted 20,272 COVID-19 tests in the last 24 hours, out of which 728 turned out to be positive or 3.59 percent with three deaths. A total of 161 patients are in critical condition, the official data says.

Ranjha said the number of daily infections in the country was under control as the government was constantly monitoring the situation.

“There is nothing alarming so far, but the people should still keep following health guidelines like mask wearing and social distancing at public places to evade the infection,” he said.

Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association, told Arab News the vaccination of children would help boost general immunity.

“The scientific data available shows the vaccine for children is safe and effective,” he said, adding that the government should roll out an awareness before starting the drive.

“Developed countries have already started vaccination of the children to curb the virus, and it is highly recommended that we should also start it as quickly as possible.”