Tourism in Pakistan
A report says that:
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Pakistan’s GDP in 2016 was US$7.6 billion (PKR 793.0 billion), constituting 2.7% of the total GDP. By 2025, the government predicts tourism will contribute ₨1 trillion (US$6.0 billion) to the Pakistani economy.
This single report stands alone in underscoring the importance of tourism for any country.
Tourism is one of the best ways of generating revenue for any country. Apart from generating revenue tourism helps in the promotion of the culture and civilization of a particular country. Since, Pakistan is rich in diverse cultures, civilizations, and traditions, with beautiful landscapes, heavenly sights, and historical places; it holds a great tourism potential, which regrettably remained elusive. It is a country that has the second-highest peak in the world known as K2. Contrary to its north that is among the coldest regions of the world, Pakistan has the warmest known places in its south. It is a blessed land with four seasons. From mountains to valleys, from lush green areas to deserts, from dense forests to waters, Pakistan is rich in all the natural resources.
Moreover, Pakistan has a plethora of historical, religious, archeological, or adventurous sites that could attract a large number of tourists from around the world.
Regrettably, Pakistan failed to cash its full potential of the tourism industry owing to multifarious factors and challenges that impede or have always impeded the country from becoming the world’s top or best tourist destination.
Challenges to Tourism in Pakistan
Let’s now talk about some of the potential challenges and obstacles that mire Pakistan from becoming the world’s best tourist spot.
Terrorism has severely impacted the tourism industry of Pakistan. It is due to the surge of terrorism post 9/11, that the country was marked ‘unsafe’ internationally that ultimately tarnished the image of Pakistan globally. The frequent incidents of bomb blasts, targeted killings, drone attacks, and bloodshed throughout the country remained a spoiler for the growth of Pakistan’s tourist industry and economy. Thus, tourists from across the world though wanted to visit Pakistan but remained reluctant due to the prevailing law and order issues in the country then. Albeit, the situation in Pakistan has considerably improved now, and the tourism industry in Pakistan has revived to a great extent. Still, much needs to be done.
Poor Connectivity Infrastructure
As there is no denying the fact that the roads and connectivity infrastructure plays a vital role in the promotion of tourism in any country. The situation of roads and connectivity infrastructure in Pakistan thoroughly remained compromised due to reasons like budgetary constraints, corruption, etc. No government paid heed to connect remote areas with the rest of the country. Thus, a number of potential tourist hotspots remained thoroughly out of reach. For example, Pakistan owns the most beautiful sights and landscapes in its north, known as the northern areas that have a great potential of attracting gazillions of tourists from across the world, but unfortunately, the underdeveloped Northern areas failed to cash its tourist potential.
Similarly, we have the Kashmir region that is known as ‘the heaven on the earth’, but the lack of connectivity and the poor conditions of the roads remained major obstacles in the way of the promotion of tourism in Kashmir.
The beautiful deserts of Sindh and Baluchistan failed to attract tourists owing to lack of connectivity, while in many Arab regions, similar deserts are famous as their tourist hotspots.
Government Negligence to Tourist Places
The third prominent factor behind the poor state of tourism in Pakistan is sheer negligence on part of the government. Subsequent governments in the past paid no heed to the development of tourist places by building hotels or those potential places for tourist resorts that could attract locals and foreigners. Usually, the tourists who travel have no other option than to camp or do self-cooking for themselves, and not everyone likes it. Thus, hotels or resorts are necessary conditions to turn beautiful sites to hit tourist destinations.
Take an example of ‘Tolipeer’ which is one of the most famous tourist spots in the Pakistani part of Kashmir. The place itself reflects government negligence. The frequent littering of the place, coupled with poor conditions of the roads and lack of hotels or dwellings for tourists reflect government negligence. Similarly, the whole ‘Neelum valley’ in Kashmir, famous for its heavenly beauty, speaks volumes of negligence on part of the government. Ultimately, it discourages not only the foreigners but the locals too from their endeavors to explore the beauty of these places and bring it to the limelight.
Another prominent challenge that demands serious attention is the treatment meted out to non-native or foreign tourists by native people of the region. Generally speaking, the overall Pakistani people are noble, hospitable, and caring. But it is not always the fact. People are generally self-centered when it comes to economic interests. Similar is the case with the people belonging to most of the tourist places. For example, go to northern areas without a guide and you will find local people there trying their best to charge you heavily for their services. The exorbitant prices set for the services and products are one issue that most of the tourists get to face.
The second issue is the behavior of people in some of the regions like Murree, where a number of cases and incidents of the tourists getting beaten by the natives have surfaced on social media. What image of Pakistan and the society does it portray to the rest of the world? Would it encourage or discourage foreigners to visit Pakistan?
Negative Role of Pakistani Media
Lastly, the role of the media has also added fuel to fire. The way media has projected the image of Pakistan by merely highlighting the accidents, blasts, bloodshed, and other social issues, have tarnished the image of Pakistan globally.
There was a time when beautiful sites and places in Pakistan were shown to the world through television programs. But at that time, the media was state-controlled. After the media got liberalized, it started promoting whatever it wanted to, without actually realizing what impacts that would have on the image of the state.
Thus, the negative role played by Pakistani media has also hurt the tourism industry of Pakistan.
Also Read: Democracy in Pakistan – Hopes & Hurdles
Opportunities to Tourism Industry in Pakistan
Having discussed a few prominent challenges to the tourism industry in Pakistan, it is also pertinent to shed some light on the potential opportunities for the growth of tourism in Pakistan. Following is a quick insight into these opportunities:
Pakistan is increasingly becoming Peaceful
As earlier we have highlighted how terrorism and security issues in Pakistan have negatively impacted tourism, today it is a well-acknowledged fact that Pakistan is largely becoming a peaceful and safe place for all and sundry (thanks to the security forces of Pakistan). Thus, the label of ‘unsafe place’ is no more valid and the world has acknowledged that Pakistan is no more a no-go area.
The tourist places that were unsafe in the past, esp. the places in the northern areas, are now safe not only for men or the local people but also for women and foreigners. Recently, a female foreigner, namely ‘Eva Zu Beck’ has traveled across the length and breadth of Pakistan all alone, and she has left the country safe and sound, with many positive memories that she talks about on her social media accounts. Beyond doubt, her tourism stories have encouraged others to visit the beautiful landscapes of Pakistan.
Government’s will to Revive Tourism in Pakistan
Another opportunity for the growth of tourism in Pakistan that has largely remained missing earlier is that the present government of PTI is determined to fully revive the tourism industry in Pakistan. The Prime Minister of Pakistan has many times talked at length about the potential of tourism in Pakistan. The government is determined to take every step to promote tourism in Pakistan; for example, easing visa-policies for tourists, facilitating them in the country, provision of guidelines and security to them during traveling, etc. are all well-cherished steps by the present government.
Power of Social Media
The role played by social media in the promotion of tourism in Pakistan is unparalleled. Today, people are more active in highlighting attractive, beautiful sites in Pakistan on various social media platforms. A number of blogs, vlogs, and tourism groups are very active today in projecting a positive image of Pakistan globally and promoting tourism in Pakistan. Social media has actually overshadowed the negative role of Pakistani electronic media that we have earlier discussed.
CPEC: Enhanced Connectivity
Earlier we have highlighted the issue of poor connectivity infrastructure; with CPEC and its projects of roads and highways, the tourism industry will gain a quick boost in Pakistan. The enhanced connectivity in Pakistan due to rail and road projects will bring the remote areas of Pakistan into the mainstream. Access to different tourist destinations will become easier. Moreover, the spread of internet services under CPEC projects will further help in bringing the unexplored and undiscovered beauty of Pakistan into the limelight.
The Introduction of E-governance
Since the present government of Pakistan has introduced e-governance i.e. ‘Pakistan Citizen Portal’; it will be helpful in reporting the potential social problems and mismanagements across the country. As told earlier about economic exploitation, such cases can be reported to the authorities with just one click. Thus, the use of e-governance can help tourists in reporting any sort of untoward incident.
To conclude, tourism in Pakistan is getting fast revival which will not only help Pakistan in generating revenues but also be helpful in adding to the country’s soft power. Pakistan has a great potential to compete with the world’s top tourist destinations with its unmatched beauty and diversity in its people, culture, and traditions.