Tourism in Pakistan : An Unexplored Horizon

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pakistan-tourismA well-established national tourism sector contributes to employment, raises national income, and can improve a country’s balance of payments. It serves as an important engine for promoting economic growth and plays a key role in poverty reduction, especially in developing economies like Pakistan.

The tourism industry also has noteworthy social and cultural benefits due to its potential to promote understanding and international relationships. These socioeconomic dimensions make tourism a vital constituent of globalization. The importance of the tourism industry worldwide is demonstrated by the liberal business environment that exists in the majority of countries. According to the World Economic Forum, more than 130 World Trade Organisation (WTO) members have made commitments to open up their tourist industry, which is more than any other service sector. In addition, tourism transformation can be of immense overall economic value in its own right, given that the sector produces some 5–8 percent of GDP directly and indirectly as well as one in every 12 to 15 jobs.

Encouraging travel also boosts consumer and business confidence; it supports two-way trade, and creates export income for the poor countries with few similar alternatives.

Pakistan remains a land of high adventure, nature and a rich culture, with the mighty stretches of the Karakorams in the North to the enormous alluvial deltas of the Indus River in the South, Trekking, mountaineering, white water rafting, wild boar hunting, mountain and desert jeep safaris, camel and yak safaris, trout fishing and bird watching are some of the activities which attract the adventure and nature lovers to Pakistan. In addition, historical buildings such as the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque attract thousands of tourists every year.

Pakistanhas been ranked on 113 out of 133 countries this year on the Travel and Tourism (T&T) Competitiveness Index while it was ranked 111 in 2008. Some of the other disadvantages forPakistan include a poor tourism infrastructure such as hotel rooms; available ATMs accepting visa cards and prevailing security situation.

The downfall of Pakistan’s tourism and travel industry can also be illustrated by the fact that last year, despite many competitive disadvantages, Pakistan ranked 40th for air travel and 39th in ground transport structure, but dropped to 99th and 73rd respectively in 2009.

Currently, the tourism picture is not very rosy elsewhere either. The UN’s World Tourism Organisation recently predicted that growth in international tourism in 2009 will be in the range of zero to two percent decline compared to the modest growth of two percent in 2008, mainly because of the global economic slowdown. World Economic Forum in 2009 also stated that a global recession will impact the entire Travel & Tourism sector, despite its strong performance in previous years. The financial crisis and economic recession are bringing about tighter credit conditions, high consumer debt, decreased housing wealth, stagnant wages, rising unemployment, all of which are leading to a reduction in travel demand, principally business travel.

InPakistan, the poor infrastructure, lack of coordination among different government bodies, less focus laid on improving the image of the country by national campaigns are just some of the reasons for the decline of the sector in the present years. Lack of security and terrorism has also caused a severe blow to Pakistan’s tourism industry and can be listed as the major reason for its poor performance.

Due to the recent bomb blasts in major cities, including Lahore, a declining trend in tourists’ inflow was witnessed in March inPakistan, while the number of tourists going abroad increased in the same month.

The recent attack onSri Lanka’s cricket team has also severely influenced the most loved sport in the country. With the international cricket teams unwilling to play inPakistan, the tourists who were attracted via this sport have been lost due to national security concerns.

Militancy in certain areas of Swat, also known asSwitzerlandof the East, and the subsequent military operation has also put an end to tourism, depriving thousands of their sources of income. The local businessmen and hotel owners blame ‘exaggerated’ media reports for their current economic depression. They say militancy is confined to certain areas of Swat district, but that people conceive of the entire region as a breeding ground for militants. Taliban have established their strongholds in the remote Peuchar area of the troubled Matta and Kabal tehsils. However, tourists from within the country and abroad have abandoned visiting the entire Swat district in view of the news about violence in certain areas. Zahir Khan, President Swat Hotels Association who owns Al-Haramain Hotel in Mingora, said the hotel industry throughout Swat had suffered almost Rs. 2.5 billion loss in 2007.

In contrast, the Indian Tourism Ministry has played an important role in the development of its tourism industry, starting advertising campaigns such as ‘Incredible India’, which promoted India’s culture and tourist attractions with a fresh approach. The campaign helped create a colourful image of Indiafor consumers worldwide and has led to a huge increase in the number of tourists visiting Indiayearly. India’s government bodies have also contributed to the tourism industry in an important way by requiring each state of the country to have a corporation to administer support issues related to tourism. A new growth sector for Indiahas been medical tourism. At present it is experiencing growth at almost 30 percent per annum. The number of medical tourists is anticipated to increase to 1 million according to Economy Watch. The tourism industry of India is based on certain key national ideals which include: Swaagat or Welcome, Sahyog or Cooperation, Soochana or Information, Sanrachanaa or Infrastructure, Suvidha or Facilitation, Safaai or Cleanliness and Surakshaa or Security.

It is important to address the issue of how the Government of Pakistan can promote tourism in our country. At present, the government has not been able to figure out how to capitalize on the tourism potential and turn our tourism assets into a sustainable employment generating and foreign exchange earning venture.

The government should make supportive business opportunities available with a world class network of roads having a firm focus on transportation facilities. Furthermore, immediate and aggressive marketing is needed to attract international tourists to Pakistan in the same way India has done with its ‘Incredible India’ campaign.

At the global level, Pakistanis wrongly projected in the media and tourists are advised against visiting it. New policies need be introduced to promote domestic tourism. Media can play an important role for the country, For Pakistan’s and particularly Swat’s image building process.

The tourism sector has been overlooked by the successive governments and a very tiny amount is allocated in Public Sector Development Program. The public budget allocated for the promotion of tourism needs to be increased so that the tourism sector can flourish, and particularly, huge financial resources need to be provided to strengthen the infrastructure.

To ensure coordination and timely implementation of the projects, the departments of culture, tourism and archeology should be brought under the umbrella of one Ministry.

As highlighted by the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Industry, the Travel & Tourism industry can take advantage of this current period of global economic uncertainty to increase collaboration among all actors of the Travel and Tourism value chain as well as to initiate innovative partnership across different industries and create new ways of doing business.Pakistan needs to take steps in this direction and save its tourism industry, with a focus on strengthening national security in the process.

The promotion of eco-tourism can also enhance the image ofPakistan. The use of solar or wind power and clean bio fuels are obvious strategic possibilities for hotels and transport companies, which can use slogans of ‘going green’ to promote Pakistanas an environment-friendly country.

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