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How to incentivize tourism

Garam Chashma Diary

Islamuddin

Successive governments have been billing Pakistan as the most attractive place for tourism. However no concrete steps are in sight to promote tourism beyond rhetoric, in which, every government tends to excel. The passion with which Imran Khan emphasized tourism, to jump start our economy and earn the precious foreign exchange, had given some hope that at last things would move in positive direction as far as tourism was concerned.

It is an admitted fact that tourism drives the economies of many countries. Small island nation of Macao earns 45 billion dollars from tourism which is more than the total foreign currency earnings of Pakistan. Pakistan has great potential for cultural, adventure, recreation and religious tourism but these could not be tapped due to poor tourism infrastructure and unhelpful governance paradigm. Chitral with its primitive economy suffers greatly because of decreasing number of tourists.

Making Chitral a sensitive border area would be discouraging tourism. States having security issues upper most in their agendas tend to fare badly in the tourism sector. Restricting free movement of tourists due to security concerns, would simply frighten them away tourists. The argument that security guards deputed with tourists for security duties is for the good of tourists is not acceptable for tourists who do not want to compromise on their privacy and freedom.

A few years back a high level Bulgarian university research team had to go back. They had come here to do research to find out their roots known to have been lost since the end of era of Eurasian land mass. According to the hypothesis developed by them Yadgha language was very close to their language and they had reasons to believe that speakers of this language belonged to their lost legion.

More recently a Chitrali philanthropist lady settled in the US commissioned research into the increasing suicide cases in Chitral. She was disturbed to read in the media that during 2019 around 30 people, mostly young girls committed suicide making Chitral a district with most suicide cases in Pakistan for that year.

On the basis of research findings it was decided to make a short film to create awareness about the causes of suicides with a few to prevent them. This short film was to educate the people and policy makers and give them tools with which suicides would be eliminated. It would also provide policy input to the government to play its role in suicide prevention. The team had to wait for days at some financial cost before they could get NOC to shoot the film. What sort of government would give so much power to its small time functionary to take a decision of such magnitude i.e. issuing NOCs? Such loopholes in the system militate in favour of misuse of authority for reasons best known to the wielders of power.

There is no denying the fact that Pakistan is facing 5th generation warfare. This war knows no boundaries or specific tool like weapons. The entire media has been weaponized to wage this war. Pakistan unfortunately is besieged by hostile forces out to destabilize the country and perforce the state has turned into a security state. But that does not mean that we should fall into the enemy trap by restricting freedoms which might be counterproductive. The government is well advised to revisit its security strategy and make it less intrusive and more subtle the way it is done by western countries. Once a tourist is cleared at visa office or the port of entry, he/she should not be made to visit every police station or shadowed openly as a routine.

The present methods of security clearance and verification are harassing and discouraging for tourists. Landlocked Chitral, with its subsistence economy, cannot generate resources for its people. Mining, hydel power and tourism are the few areas which have promising prospects to develop Chitral but all of them remain untapped. Despite lapse of 75 years after independence Chitral still lacks tourism infrastructure.

Roads which connect tourist spots to Chitral town are in bad shape and remain closed most of the time due to blockade caused by snow, rain, poor maintenance and land sliding. There are no good hotels and public baths in the tourist spots. Investment from the private sector is not forthcoming and PTDC has few motels maintained in poor condition. In Garam Chashma, billed as ultimate tourist destination, there is no PTDC motel and the land procured for the purpose decades ago is lying idle.

There is one private hotel which is very expensive and cannot be availed by an average local tourist not because it is state of the art facility but because there is no competition. Had there been competition, the cost of accommodation could have been brought down significantly making tourism affordable. Special efforts are needed to persuade local people to take advantage of government policy and build tourism facilities with loans obtained from banks that the government subsidizes.

Investment from outside Chitral can only come when our road infrastructure is improved. A major hindrance has been removed with the 5G coverage extended to most of Chitral. Once good roads are in place, tourists, both domestic and foreign, would start flowing into Chitral. As demand generates supply, people would start building motels and hotels to cash in the tourism boom.

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1 Comment
  1. Zarmast Khan says

    This PTI govt has done lots of things to promote tourism by making claims and false promises. My friends from Lahore visited Chitral this summer and told me it was their biggest wrong decision because they faced lots of issues mainly due to poor roads and lack of hotels and other facilities.
    Instead of lying govt should construct the roads that have been not repaired for years and years.

    Zarmast

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