The breath-taking views of Deosai Plains and Hunza valley, the rustic antique vibe of the many gorgeous mahals in Bahawalpur, the historic Mohenjo Daro, countless sights at Chitral top and the ever beautiful Margalla Hills are among many prominent internationally recognized sights; they are not only a part of Pakistan’s beautiful geography but are state assets. The changing dynamics in technology have impacted all sectors of our economy, i.e., industry, health and media, and not to overlook, tourism.
The reasons why a country attracts tourists is largely related to the continuous efforts of the government to maintain all historical and cultural sites and safeguard the flora and fauna that drives the tourism industry. Pakistan is replete with natural beauty that has attracted millions of tourists from across the globe over the years. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Pakistan's GDP in 2016 was Rs.793 billion ($7.6 billion), constituting 2.7% of the total GDP. By 2025, the government predicts tourism will contribute Rs.1 trillion ($6 billion) to the Pakistani economy. These numbers can increase to a much higher degree once we identify the potential of tourism inside Pakistan, most importantly with respect to its small scale cottage industry and local female entrepreneurs.
Providing some spectacular handicrafts, almost 65% of women in Pakistan earn their livelihoods via candle making, Ajrak, ceramics, rugs, musical instruments, caps, straw products, bangles, crochet work, embroideries, carpets and woodcarving. These commodities are sought after around the world, with prices as high as any branded handbag. It is surprising to note that this highly intensive labour oriented segment of the industry produces about 80% of employment for the labour force. These commodities have now become an important part of exports, however, the potential it has is a lot higher than what it is being pledged on globally. and this potential can further be increased if women are helped financially and technically to set up their own businesses instead of working for others.
The British Backpackers Society rated Pakistan as the number one tourist destination in 2018. Condé Nast Traveler has selected it as a top destination in 2020; this in itself is a testament to the potential of tourism in Pakistan. Many tourist destinations across the country are still untapped and unexplored that require secure access for international tourists. Not just that, but the local markets and products of all such untapped areas of Pakistan hold immeasurable value for their uniqueness.
The scenic Northern Areas alone have garnered 50 million Pakistanis, on average, as domestic tourists every summer. The age-old preserved culture of Kalash Valley is not being used to its full potential. The true importance of local markets and the crafts by dedicated women of Kalash are not recognized like they should be. With two Royal visits from the UK and Netherlands in its pocket, Pakistan has attracted world attention of coming out of the tentacles of being labeled as an unsafe country. The high profile visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge showcased some of Pakistan’s prominent city tours.
The onslaught of COVID-19 has damaged the tourism industry to a great extent, especially for an emerging all-season tourist destination like Pakistan. A country like Egypt, although knee-deep in its unstable political scenario as well as security concerns has managed to keep tourists hooked by providing them a new experience until they can travel again. They have managed to provide 3D video experience to enthusiasts of prominent heritage sites in hopes to keep attracting people with the love of scavenging and travelling once the pandemic settles down. Similarly, Abu Dhabi attracts its Chinese tourists by holding roadshows and promotional exhibitions in China. Iran has waived off visa fees to a few countries from where its tourist inflow is higher than the rest. Pakistan not only can utilize these options for its land-based tourist attractions but can also utilize online portals like Amazon to market its own local crafts made by small-scale cottage industry that provides employment opportunities to countless women. From Kashmir to Sindh, rural areas and villages have throngs of talented women working on products that require a proper medium other than the exporting agencies to sell their products online on the international market.
Introducing virtual ease for indulging in the tourism potential of Pakistan is the need of the hour. With possibilities unimaginable and technical talent like never before, Pakistan has the potential to reach international masses via internet by creating a virtual experience platform for tourists in not just sightseeing but also purchasing locally made products from whichever part of the country they please. The inflow of foreign currency, the improvements and attractions via virtual tours of deep-rooted cultural sites and natural jewels of Pakistan will cater to the nation’s GDP.
The potential of tourism in Pakistan needs enhancement via generating active social media profiles with a single mother entity that manages them all and keeps check and balance. The social media sites and accounts will help to engage masses across the globe and offer them various packages for visiting the country as well as taking a round trip across the entire country with benefits and security promised by the government. Every individual city in every province, especially the South and Northern parts of the country still have so much untapped potential in terms of attracting explorers. There is also a need of establishing affordable hotels in a way that it does not infiltrate the beauty and heritage of the areas.
The food industry of Pakistan has a unique potential for garnering more and more tourists from across the globe that venture out for various kinds of culinary experience from exotic localities. Condé Nast Traveler, one of the world's top travel portals, has named Pakistan as one of the top tourist destinations for 2020. This not only includes geographic attractions but also the flavors that the traveller can indulge in. Macedonia has chased on its food industry through culinary tourism by maintaining its cultural significance of food, ingredients, methods of preparation and serving, which actually reflects the whole cultural heritage of the country. Taking a leaf out of their book, Pakistan has a vibrant culinary tourism to offer and to attract the masses. It is pertinent to take those flavours out into the global market. Inviting world-class chefs along with their agencies to divulge into the local handy talent of cooking and utilizing spices from within Pakistan is one of the many ways to bring Pakistan on the food map of the world. This can also be an opportunity for women who can turn their homes into cafes and serve tourists with authentic local cuisine, as is done in villages near Bangkok.
Due to cultural restraints in many rural areas women cannot leave their homes and villages to travel for work and to sell their crafts, the industry of tourism is a huge step forward for these women who are leading small scale industry mostly on their own in their native villages. Pakistan’s tourism industry will give women in villages a chance to market their talent as well as find new avenues to generate income through web portals utilizing safe transactional channels. Many women can also make use of their interpersonal skills and knowledge about their area, its traditions and heritage and act as travel guides to bump up their income.
Pakistan is home to some highly qualified and world renowned health professionals that can help generate health tourism with the help of the government by providing easy access and process to patients travelling for treatment to Pakistan. The various temples that house people of various religions can increase the inflow of pilgrims by providing easy access and hassle free visa policies to religious travelers.
The education sector in Pakistan with all its glory has the potential of entertaining international exchange students. According to a poll conducted in 125 countries by the Institute of European Business Administration, Pakistanis have been ranked 4th as the most intelligent people across the globe. The Cambridge exams of both A and O Levels have been topped by Pakistani students and the surprising bit is that their performance record is yet to be broken.
Known for all its seasons, fruits, vegetables, landscapes and heritage beauty that accommodates all religions, Pakistan is country rich in languages and literature; it has ever-burgeoning potential of garnering global tourists. It has the ability to utilize all assets for a full spectrum tourism experience like no other country. The only thing hindering the process is the relative lack of ease of access. A way forward is utilizing the digital aspect of it. There is a need to bring everything online, make travelling within and from outside easy and hassle free, easy to access places to stay, eat and shop from. The need now is to unlock the untapped segments of the country and market them on a full scale for the world to notice and visit to experience. HH
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