Shams Uddin (Booni, Chitral)
Pro-poor, sustainable and environmental-friendly tourism is a prerequisite for the long-term economic growth of Pakistan. It will not only underpin the livelihoods of the marginal people in remote and least developed scenic regions of the country but will also eradicate poverty by creating vast employment opportunities.
Tourism for sustainable economic growth. So far, Pakistan’s unlimited tourism potentials like mountaineering, trekking, snow sports, river rafting, coupled with adventure and cultural sports and festivals, have remained untapped, further confounded by the prevalence of intolerance followed by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the economy of tourism to a grinding halt. It did untold damages to the livelihoods of the already marginalized tourism stakeholders—tour operators, guides, high altitude porters, and transporters, plus hoteliers and guesthouse owners.
The official data of Pakistan Travel & Tourism for 2018 shows that tourism contribution to the Gross National Product (GNP) stood at 5.9% and created considerable employments through the flow of foreign remittances amounting to KR 116.2 billion. According to World Tourism Council, nearly 6.2% of all the jobs within Pakistan could be traced back to the travel and tourism sector during this period, which is encouraging. We hope that 2022 will witness proactive tourism in Pakistan to create employment for the teeming millions.
Historically Pakistan has been a reputed destination for explorers, adventurists, mountaineers, and nature lovers from the developed countries of North America, Europe, Australia, the Far East, Asia, and some of the South American nations. Most of the tourists from mentioned regions have a very positive image of Pakistan as a destination, which they want to visit again and again. So, to attract tourists from these regions, it would be necessary to launch a planned, well-coordinated, and hectic marketing campaign through print and electronic media from Pakistan and abroad.
In recent years, the interest of international tourists and tour companies has immensely increased to promote the tourism sector in Pakistan by including it in their itineraries and sending their groups to the country. The government has to reciprocate the favorable posture from international travel companies and tourists by adopting and promoting tourism-friendly policies, say, streamlining the entire technical and legal structure of tourism as an industry. Further, the complication of the No Objection Certificate (NOC) may better be completely waivered and allow tourists to move freely around the country as per guidelines provided by tourism ministry and foreign office in keeping with security-related priorities and instructions. It is good to know that Visa on Arrival (VoA) policy for 48 countries plus the e-Visa facility for 175 countries around the world has been helpful to promote foreign tourism in Pakistan.
Declaring tourism as an industry and formulation of the tourism-friendly legislation coupled with hectic media coverage from notable visitors, bloggers, and foreign tourists can put Pakistan on the global radar as a must-visit tourist destination. Currently, the sector is gaining momentum despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic that caused the decline of travel and tourism by 75% from January 2019 onward, badly hitting the livelihoods of tourism sector employees.
Now Pakistan is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, and hopefully, tourism will fully revive for 2022 to bring in more and more foreign tourists. Domestic tourism has already been active, and the flow of national tourists during 2021 has significantly increased to the reputed destinations of northern Pakistan.
Further, it is heartening to know that almost all provincial governments have launched tourism projects worth billions of rupees for beautification and promotion of various destinations for the attraction of tourists and give a photogenic look to the places that tourists are likely to visit.
However, it is equally important to focus on improving the quality of the desperately needed tourism-related services for tourists’ satisfaction. Hospitality management, transportation, tour operation, and guiding services are some of the areas that need to be markedly improved. Given the above facts, it would be relevant for the government to consider improvement for the following areas of tourism-related services aimed at tourism for sustainable economic growth:
- A relaxed visa regime will be essential for tourists visiting Pakistan. The government has taken measures to resolve the matter, yet foreign tourists face problems acquiring a visa for the country.
- Human resource development is desperately required to improve the services of tour operators, tour guides, porters, transportation, hoteliers, and high-altitude guides. For this purpose, the launching of an elaborate capacity-building and awareness-raising program would be inevitable. The involvement of qualified and relevant people is also critical in this regard.
- Promotion of adventure and cultural sports as tourism products will be crucial to attracting domestic and foreign tourists. Different traditional cultural events need revival to engage more and more tourists.
- Northern Pakistan has beautiful skiing resorts to promote adventure sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and skating as calendar events to attract domestic and foreign tourists.
- Organizing conferences, seminars, symposiums, and expos on tourism at the national and international levels will help to successfully project Pakistan as an ideal destination.
To sum it up, tourism is the only hope to sustain the livelihoods of the teeming millions in the country and address the chronic challenges of poverty they have been facing for such a long time.