By Rahat Bashir
Pakistan is immensely gifted with beautiful landscapes ranging from lofty mountains in the north to beautiful beaches in the south. The country is filled with diverse geographical locations including spectacular waterfalls, fast-flowing rivers, snow-capped peaks, mighty glaciers, plateaus, plains, salt ranges, mangroves and even forests and desert making it a prefect recipe for tourism. Moreover, it also offers ethno-linguistic and cultural diversity like Sindhi, Makrani, Punjabi, Saraiki, Baltis, Hazara and Pakhtun to mention a few.
Tourism is a highly demanding but financially rewarding industry. It not only contributes to the economy of the country but also generates employment opportunities in hotels, restaurants, car-rental agencies, tour companies, service stations and souvenir shops. This in-turn generates foreign exchange earnings, revenue and improves the GDP and reputation of the country. The prime location of Pakistan in South Asia makes it a gateway between the western/middle-eastern and eastern countries, and can also serve as a transit country in the future just like Dubai. With strategic planning and investment, Dubai rose from barren desert to the hotspot of tourism, welcoming over 16 million tourists in 2019.
In Pakistan, thousands of kilometer roads including highways and motorways have been built in the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) agreement since 2013. The infrastructure development also led to the development of guest houses, gas stations and restaurants. It revived the local tourism industry and received a 37 percent increase in tourism visa applications due to CPEC in previous years. The local industry can further be developed by attracting investors to and strategic marketing on social media, newspaper, magazines, and even mainstream media like television.
There is a global stereotypic perception of Pakistan as third-world country filled with natural disasters, corruption, terrorism with lack of basic facilities. Due to Pakistan’s name involved in 9/11 and breeding ground for Taliban, it has created a disrupted and turbulent image of the country in the west. But things are progressing, slowly but steadily.
Last year, an UAE vlogger Khalid Al-Ameri visited Pakistan and was overwhelmed with Pakistan’s beauty and landscapes.
Furthermore, his YouTube video titled “Trying The Pakistani ‘Anday Wala’ Burger! (My First Day In Pakistan)” crossed over a million views.
People like Khalid Al Ameri, international content creators, have audience from all around the world are asset to Pakistan, who can revolutionize the distorted image of country and show the “real” Pakistanis to the world, known for their hospitality and kindness and not terrorism and corruption.
Over the past few years, there have been renowned Youtubers with over a million followers visiting Pakistan including American food vlogger Mark Wiens, Chinese youtuber Mikey Chen, Polish TV Host Eva zu Beck,etc and showing the beautiful side of Pakistan to the world.
There is a dire need to develop tourism on sustainable grounds so that our beautiful land is preserved and continues to fascinate the generations to come. The rise of local tourism has led to pollution in the northern areas. The government of Pakistan needs to tackle this problem promptly and allocate people to manage waste disposal problems, cleanliness and keep a check on deforestation. There should be environmental campaigns to create awareness about the rising issue and a policy to counter it. International tourists are particularly keen about standardization of hotels and availability of transport to the northern areas.
Another aspect linked with the tourism sector is that government must also work on eradicating child labour and bonded labour which are key concerns about Pakistan on all internation forums. According to the article published by The Guardian after the visit of Brandon from Humans of New York in 2015,
“Humans of New York highlighted the vital work of BLLF an organisation led by Syeda Ghulam Fatima for eradicating bonded labour, which is in fact a pernicious form of modern-day slavery. Within hours of Fatima’s story being posted online, hundreds of comments appeared from people around the world who wanted to know how they could help. Humans of New York set up a fundraising page for people wishing to donate and, in just four days, 73,000 people collectively donated more than $2m (£1.3m) to help free the labourers.”
Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) and National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) have been working towards accelerating the tourism industry in Pakistan.In 2019, Pakistan opened Kartarpur Corridor which is a visa-free border for the Indian Sikhs to visit Pakistan. It was Pakistan’s step to initiate goodwill and friendship to its neighbours who share the same heritage and culture. Pakistan has now started visa on-arrival for 45 countries including the United States of America and online visa system is available for all 191 countries.Recently, there have been job openings in the tourism industry which shows the government’s keen interest in the sector.
According to The News, “the recent budget allocated to tourism reflects good prospects in the industry. It stated “Up to Rs1.45bn has been allocated for tourism and mines & minerals, respectively, which reflects a 231pc increase in tourism budget. A cursory look at the budget document shows there are 14 ongoing schemes and 17 proposed new schemes. Up to Rs750 million has been allocated for North Punjab and Rs350 million for south and central Punjab. The approved cost for the 14 ongoing schemes is Rs1.081.425 billion, and they are expected to be completed by 2023. The 17 new schemes will get a total of Rs1.064 billion. These new projects are also expected to be finished by 2023. “
Moreover, there have been proposals of double decker buses for sightseeing, a water park in Jhang and special consideration has been given to cleanliness to meet international quality and standards.
According to The Express Tribune “Gilgit-Baltistan Information Minister Fatehullah Khan on Saturday said the PTI-led government was planning to build a new international standard airport in Gilgit to meet the requirements of international tourists and demand from domestic investors.” If this project is carried out successfully, then international tourism will certainly boost due to availability of convenient transport.
Pakistan has a lot of potential for growth in the tourism industry and with proper leadership, planning and execution, our country could become one of the topnotch tourists’ hubs in the world in the coming years.