PESHAWAR -- The reopening of a hotel at the Malam Jabba Ski Resort, which the Taliban torched more than a decade ago, is adding the latest boost to tourism in Swat District, once a militant hotbed.
Situated in the scenic Swat Valley, the formerly state-run facility came under attack by militants June 26, 2008. They reduced much of it to ashes and killed three people.
With security restored in the area, the lodging underwent a complete makeover and has reopened as a five-star hotel at Pakistan's only ski resort.
The hotel has a total of 76 rooms including suites.
Considered a jewel of Swat due to its picturesque beauty, the Malam Jabba Ski Resort is situated about 314km from Islamabad, 9,200 metres above sea level.
On September 5, the Hashoo Group, owner of Pearl-Continental Hotels in Pakistan, announced the reopening of the hotel through a deal between its subsidiary, Pakistan Services Limited, and the Samsons Group of Companies.
Maulana Tariq Jamil, a religious scholar and preacher, performed the ribbon-cutting inauguration of the Pearl-Continental Hotel Malam Jabba and offered special prayers for the preservation of peace and development in the area.
The reopening of the hotel will raise the living standards of inhabitants of militancy-hit areas by attracting tourists from across the country and abroad, said Jamil.
The renovation of the hotel and resort will spur many development opportunities in the region as well as restore Swat District's image, said Waseem Ur Rehman, the chief executive officer of Samsons Group.
"With the co-operation and support of the Khyber Pakhtukhwa (KP) government, our company has made a big investment in restoring the Malam Jabba Ski Resort to its past glory," he said.
Other restorations at the ski resort include the renovation of a 800-metre-long dual-purpose chairlift and a mountain park that offers a zip line and wall climbing.
Rehman added the project will help boost tourism in Swat and in all of KP and create jobs for local residents, said Rehman.
The reopening of the luxury hotel at Malam Jabba is aimed at "reviving one of Pakistan's top tourist destinations", said Imtiaz Ahmad, spokesperson for Pearl-Continental Hotels Peshawar.
Attracting international tourists
The reconstruction of the hotel has drawn praise from Swat residents, who are confident the project will boost tourism in the area as well as "remove the perception that the region is a hub for militants'', said Shireen Zada, a local television journalist.
Zada covered the destruction of the Malam Jabba hotel in 2008. Its destruction is still engrained in his mind, he said.
"The conversion of a destroyed hotel into a modern five-star hotel was quite unbelievable at first sight, and the reality of it has stirred joy," Zada added.
Operations to clear militants from the area have paid off, said Zahoor Durrani, managing director of Peshawar-based tour operator Sehrai Travel.
"Through the efforts and sacrifices rendered by our security forces and local residents, peace has been restored and the construction of a first-class hotel in Swat is testimony to this fact," he said.
It is encouraging to see visitors returning to Malam Jabba and other tourist locations of KP, an area that they avoided for years because they feared terrorism, Durrani said.
According to the KP Tourism Department's estimates, about 2 million tourists visited the province in 2019, he said.
The restoration of the Malam Jabba resort will help attract even more, especially international visitors, he said.
"It's good news for me because ski lovers from abroad have expressed their desire to visit Malam Jabba provided that it has proper and safe accommodations," said Imran Siach, a local tourist guide.
"Now, I can proudly invite international tourists to visit Swat to enjoy Pakistan's top ski resort in addition to the breathtaking scenic views they will see while passing through the Hindu Kush mountain range," said Imran.
Imran expressed confidence that the opening of the hotel would attract international tourists and alter public perceptions of Pakistan.