Attack on tourists rocks fledgling Afghanistan tourism sector

Kabul, May 21: An attack claimed by the Islamic State group which killed foreign tourists visiting a market in central Afghanistan has also dealt a blow to the country’s nascent tourism sector.

“If there is another attack in the next few weeks or months, Afghanistan’s tourism industry will be over,” said Joe Sheffer, founder of the Safarat tourism agency, which specialises in tours to the country.

He spoke to AFP after the attack by one or more gunmen on Friday that killed six people in central Bamiyan province, including three Spanish tourists. Another four foreigners in the tourist group were wounded.

The Islamic State group on Sunday claimed the assault on the group of 13 travellers with a Spanish tour agency, believed to be the first against foreign tourists since the Taliban’s return to power in 2021.

The Taliban authorities have touted improved security in Afghanistan ever since their takeover in 2021 ended their insurgency against foreign-backed government forces.

Bamiyan province, with its giant Buddhas dynamited in 2001 under the Taliban’s first rule and turquoise lakes at Band-e Amir, is the country’s leading tourist destination.

Sheffer said a couple of customers had already cancelled their trip and the company was reviewing its operations in Afghanistan.

“We will reduce group sizes… We are cancelling itineraries in remote locations… We are reducing walking in public places,” he told AFP.

Founder of the Untamed Border tour agency, James Willcox, said, “Of course, any violent attack on tourists will have a negative impact on future tourist interest.”

However, he added: “We have been working in Afghanistan for over 15 years and there has never been a time when there has not been anti-government groups operating in the country. Sadly it is something that everyone that visits Afghanistan has to consider when they travel.” In Bangkok, Phakhaporn Thantadakul, manager of the Away Vacation tour agency, wants to cancel a trip set for June/July.

The group from majority Buddhist Thailand wanted to visit Bamiyan, once a major centre of Buddhist influence.

“I will check with my group first because the security is coming first. If anything happens, I cannot handle it,” she said.

The founder of travel agency Let’s be Friends Afghanistan (LBFA) Noor Mohammad Ramazan said, “Questions flooded towards me from clients worried about safety” after the attack. (AFP)

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