Pakistan: A Tourism Heaven to be Explored

Almost over with war on terror, the wings of the country are slowly unfolding, Ah, what a sight would it be to see it fly high, first economically of course. The world operates this way, when all around we have countries with economics driven politics. All we need to do is set the priorities once, and while we do it, we need to make sure to keep travel and tourism among the top priorities and then trust me we are ready to go. 


Now, is Pakistan ready to step up? Are we ready to own the land the way we should? Are we actually grateful to Almighty for a land so beautiful and rich in every possible way? Remember ownership and gratefulness are abstract and need to be proven constantly.


With peace prevailing in the country, after the successful military operations in the conflict areas, life and business is back in full throttle. We now need to look at travel and tourism as well as the economies which are tourism-ready; the ones that rely on tourism and the ones who have made a comeback with tourism.
When the British Backpackers Society visited 20 adventure travel destinations this year it declared Pakistan as a ‘clear winner’, calling it one of the friendliest countries on earth. The list, after Pakistan contains Russia, India, Turkey etc. The society also recommends a road trip from Islamabad to Khunjerab Pass calling it ‘world’s greatest road trip’. Traveling in Pakistan is an experience that keeps surprising. The society’s team will travel again this year to Skardu and K2 basecamp. 

Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 
The report tells us about the amazing evolution of the industry and how we need to cope up. The major trends driving the industry transformation, as found in the report, are:
•    Yesterday’s Tourists aren’t Tomorrow’s: With 1.24 billion international arrivals in 2016 as compared to 25 million in the 1950’s, it is indeed difficult to sustain tourist loyalty. It takes constant efforts and ‘newness’ is the key. By 2030 most of the growth in international travel will come from Asia and the Middle East as the global middle class is forecasted to grow by another three billion between 2011 and 2031, majority from the emerging markets.
•  New Travellers, Old System: The traveller today has a lot of options and because of that he has high expectations for efficiency and low tolerance for barriers to global mobility. Digitalization is the answer! In 2015, tourist destinations worldwide required 61% of the world’s population to obtain a visa prior to departure. This is an improvement from 2008, when 77% of the world’s population was made to apply for a traditional visa.
•   Geopolitical Insecurity is the New Normal: A Google survey in 2015 shows that most travellers accept that their personal data will be shared in exchange for enhanced security and efficiency.
•    The Fourth Industrial Revolution is Here to Stay: The aviation, travel and tourism have been at the forefront of digital disruption, changing the way people travel. The industry needs to be ready for new technological transformation. At the moment there are 4.9 billion cell phone users worldwide and an estimated 2.7 billion people on the social media. Between 2016 to 2025, digitalization in aviation, travel and tourism is expected to create up to $305 billion of value for the industry.
•     Jobs, Jobs and Jobs – But Where is the Talent. The sector accounts for 10% jobs on the planet and one of the largest employers in the world, the industry has a potential for huge job creativity. In addition to creating opportunities for high skilled workers, minorities, migrants, youth, the long-term unemployed and women who prefer part-time work due to family responsibilities benefit from it.
•   Sustainability: Since the air traffic has doubled every 15 years since 1980, it has reached a phenomenal number of 4 billion people travelling by plane in 2016. This number is expected to reach 7.2 billion by 2035. Sustainability of resources is therefore a must to compete with such a pressure.
•   Infrastructure is Becoming a Bottleneck: The industry contributed 10.2% to the global GDP in 2016. However, promotion of public-private partnerships for infrastructure development, airport development, accommodation room stock, road and rail and communication technologies have lagged behind.
Keeping all these factors in mind, Pakistan needs to address issues like water consumption, waste management, energy consumption, alternative energy sources and the deterioration of natural and cultural world heritage sites. 


Tourism in Pakistan at a glance:
•    In 2017, a total of 1.7 million tourists visited various locations in Pakistan – 30% of which were domestic – 200,000 more than the previous year.
•    Around 13 million international passengers arrive in Pakistan every year but 99% of them are expats. Ideally 1 out of 3 should be a foreign tourist.
•   In January 2018, it was announced that the country would be offering a multiple-entry 30-day visa on arrival to tourists from 24 countries. The countries are Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, the UK and the U.S.
•   According to World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), last year revenue from tourism contributed around $19.4 billion to Pakistan’s economy and made up 2.8% of the GDP. The WTTC expects this amount to rise to $36.1 billion within a decade.
•    Travel and tourism industry in Pakistan engages 1.4 million jobs which is merely a 2.4% share in total employment.
•  Government eyes contribution of the tourism industry’s contribution to be around Rs. 1 trillion by 2025.
•    The number of domestic tourists annually stands at 50 million.


Why Pakistan? 
Pakistan is a beautiful country with breathtaking tourist spots. Pakistan has it all – from mountains, beaches, grasslands, valleys, rivers and forests to all four seasons, seas, desert – everything that one can imagine.


Not only the beautiful mountain sceneries and landscapes beyond anyone’s imagination, the friendliness and warmth of locals will change every preconception or misconception that one has ever held about Pakistan. 


In Pakistan there are mainly two types of tourists, one who come for festivals and the others who come for its scenic beauty. We should, however, work further on developing medical tourism in the country as well keeping in mind we have some of the best doctors in the world.


Religious tourism can further be increased. Sikhs arrive on pilgrimage to visit Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara Panja Sahib and Gurdwara Sri Sacha Sauda Sahib. Buddhists can also visit present day KP, Udyana, and Taxila for a religious tour.


The Mughal and Bristish imperial structures are also a huge attraction for tourists. From Mohenjo Daro to Harappa, Badshahi Mosque to Lahore Fort, from Shalimar Gardens to Wagah Border to Khewra Salt mines, the list can go on and on.


For people who want a break from routine and enjoy with their loved ones here are a few options to explore if you haven’t so far:
•   Gilgit-Baltistan is known as the capital of tourism. The second-highest peak of K2 is located here. It has one of the most beautiful places on the face of earth. Like the Attabad Lake, Hunza, Cold Desert in Skardu, Nanga Parbat, Rush Lake, and Shangrila Lake to name a few.
•    KP is a province which has numerous places filled with unimaginable scenic beauty. You can go to Chitral Valley, Jarogo Waterfall, Naran and Kaghan Valley, Swat Valley, and Utror. The options are endless.
•    In Azad Jammu and Kashmir rests the Himalayan mountain ranges. For once in a lifetime moment, don’t forget to visit Saral Lake, Neelum Valley, Sharda, and Taobat etc.
The province of Balochistan is most unique and virgin in terms of beauty. It has a number of beautiful mountains and beaches like Astola Island, Gwadar Port, Hanna Lake, Kund Malir and Makran Coastal Highway.


How the World Sees Pakistan 
•    Northern areas of Pakistan are the best place and most fascinating tourist destinations: William Dalrymple, a renowned British historians speaking at an event “Pakistan: Travel’s best kept secret”.
•  Pakistan is on the top of world countries for adventure travel destinations 2018, with unbelievable mountain scenery and friendliness of locals and society: CNN.
•  Pakistan bookings are up 100% this year: Wild Frontiers
• “From poisoning to kidnapping to bombing, everyone warned me of a horrible death if I traveled to Pakistan but coming from the U.S., I am used to dramatic, fear-inducing travel warnings”: Alex Reynolds, a U.S. born travel blogger wants to keep travelling to Pakistan and calls it mesmerizing.
•   The United Nations World Travel Organization’s result also calls Pakistan a surprising destination where tourism is booming.
•   People are dying to visit Pakistan after seeing the pictures: Brandon from Humans of New York.


A Miraculous Shift 
With CPEC comes a sense of prevailing security, where confidence of local and foreign tourists is regained, business booms, and road links get better. Traveling to Pakistan and within Pakistan is now great from Khunjerab to Gwadar. If tour operators advertise more, promote deals though mobile applications and offer Chinese language, tourism can further increase. 


The Problems and their Solutions
We have seen Murree, Nathiagali, Naran-Kaghan, Muzzafarabad, Azad Kashmir, Swat, Skardu, Gilgit and Hunza turning into jungles of concrete, getting polluted by local tourists, losing their natural beauty due to lack of preservation. It’s therefore recommended for our tourism promoting and governing authorities to draw on experiences from different countries that thrive on tourism and see how they develop and prepare for a heavy tourist influx while preserving nature.


The hindrances in tourism are mostly related to inadequate infrastructure, negative travel advisory to international tourists, boarding and lodging, poor connectivity through air and road, NOC requirement for foreigners to visit northern areas, trust deficit in public and private sector, weak internet connectivity, lack of educated tour operators, and skillful workers in the industry.


As far as tourism policy and budget is concerned: 
•  KP has emerged as the foremost province in developing the tourism policy at provincial level, Balochistan passed the Tourism Act in 2014, AJK designed its tourism policy in 2016 but it has yet to be cleared by the Law Division. 
•    There is no dedicated provincial tourism policy in Punjab and Sindh, while in Gilgit-Baltistan the subject is still under the purview of the federal government which seems to have no policy or institution active to promote international tourism.
Other provinces as well as the center should ensure an improved budget and its transparent allocation for the development of T&T (Travel and Tourism) in Pakistan.
Let’s hope we as a nation thrive on tourism together. Here are few recommendations to make wonders happen: 
•     Cutback any red tape in issuing tourist visas. 
•   Revival of tax concessions in the import of hotel machinery.
•    Offering land on lease.
•    Tax rationalization for hotel and human resource development institutions for the industry.
•    Digitalizing the entire tourism procedure to better connect with the world.
•     Advertise eco-friendly tourism more and more and implementing environmental sefaty and cleanliness law/regulations. 
•     Provision of basic facilities like emergency medical centres, tourists facilitation centers, bigger food chains, improved local cottage industry, better road and rail network and improved aviation services should be ensured
•    Immediate efforts for the preservation and revival of heritage sites.
•    Radio, TV and and social media can play their role in promoting eco-friendly tourism.
•   Small incentives can be announced for cars with less fumes, garbage free zones, planting trees and staying away from hunting wildlife etc.

 

Pakistan is a gift of God we all cherish and that’s why patriotism found in this part of the world remains unmatched. Pakistan is currently one of the youngest countries in the world with 64% of population below the age of 30 and 29 % is between the ages 15-29 years. We need to utilize the maximum potential of our youth. Tourism in any country, if flourishes, acts like a trigger that keeps the love of the country alive and young.


The writer is an anchorperson and executive producer by profession with a private TV channel. She is also an educationist by passion. 
E-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @MariumIsmail1

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