The government needs to take a comprehensive approach to developing the tourism industry to move forward. This should include investing in infrastructure and tourism facilities, improving safety and security, and promoting the country as a tourist destination. We must ensure that tourism is sustainable and does not harm the environment. With the right strategies and investments, Pakistan's tourism industry can be a significant driver of economic growth and development for the country.
Tourism, once pursued solely for recreational purposes, has now evolved into a vast industry, particularly for developing countries. The impact of globalization has further transformed tourism into a revenue-generating sector. The significance of tourism has increased tenfold since the normalization of travel bloggers through social media. It is now regarded as a significant driver of development, shaping the fundamental pillars of economic growth in developing economies.
According to experts and researchers, a one percent increase in tourism significantly enhances gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.051 percent, foreign direct investment (FDI) by 2.647 percent, energy development by 0.134 percent, and agriculture development by 0.26 percent. It reduces poverty by 0.51 percent in the long run. Tourism is among the top five export categories for as many as 83 percent of countries and is a main source of foreign exchange earnings for at least 38 percent. Hence, policymakers should focus on how tourism can advance development through public interventions by designing and implementing integrated policies. In addition, policy consistency and coherence are essential for competitiveness, sustainability, and maximizing benefits from tourism.
Governments in the developing world that support and promote tourism benefit from its high multiplier effects in generating employment, increasing foreign exchange earnings, positively impacting the balance of payment, and stimulating the supply sectors of tourism that help alleviate poverty. Tourism development also stimulates growth by attracting FDI and building new facilities. The relationship between tourism and capital investment is twofold: potential business tourists are attracted by investment opportunities through information business‐friendly environments and available human capital, and foreign investors develop tourism facilities such as hotels, resorts, parks, energy, and transportation amenities.
The relationship between tourism and capital investment is twofold: potential business tourists are attracted by investment opportunities through information business‐friendly environments and available human capital, and foreign investors develop tourism facilities such as hotels, resorts, parks, energy, and transportation amenities.
Tourism is highly dependent on energy to carry out its daily business activities. Scholars suggest that increasing tourism activities leads to a higher demand for energy development. Through a backward integration strategy, tourism supports agriculture, a backbone in developing countries such as Pakistan.
Tourism is also recognized as an essential pillar of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goals 1 (no poverty), 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 10 (reduce inequalities). The basic premise behind sustainable tourism is to visit the locations without harming the local community and nature but also contribute in some constructive way to positively impact the environment, society, and the economy. Tourism can include transportation to the general area close to the tourist destinations, local transportation, accommodation, leisure, entertainment, shopping, and food. It can be linked to travel for recreation, business, family, and friends. In many countries, these tourism activities remain an essential source for generations of employment and income in both formal and informal sectors. Developing countries like Pakistan can engender a considerable amount of foreign exchange from tourism that could also boost their sustainable growth and development.
In most countries, the government can generate revenue and enhance household income by developing this sector. The economic development of nations worldwide is replete with examples where tourism has positively impacted socioeconomic development. Some notable examples include Mauritius, South Africa, the Maldives, Croatia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Netherlands, Italy, and France, to name just a few.
In South Asia, there are several countries where the tourism industry is an engine of economic development and GDP growth. The Maldives is a shining example of how a small island nation has harnessed its tourism potential for socioeconomic development and enhanced its foreign exchange reserves. Alternatively, economic expansion in the developed nations influences business travel, which can lead to a rise in the nation's overseas reserves. However, Pakistan remains the only country in South Asia with the least share of tourism revenues in this region.
Pakistan has the ingredients that make it a great tourist destination, and the tourism industry is an effective tool for economic development and poverty alleviation. With its breathtaking natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and historical sites, it can become a popular tourist destination. From the towering peaks of the Himalayas in the north to the pristine beaches of the Arabian Sea in the south, the country boasts an array of attractions that should draw visitors from all over the world.
Pakistan, in the early decades of its independence, emerged as a great new destination for tourism, offering the entire gamut from some of the highest mountains, lakes, and glaciers to the lush green fields to the only green desert in the world to the mud volcanoes and over a thousand miles of pristine coastline. It also offers a rich cultural heritage, several millennia-old civilizational sites, and relics. Not to forget the beautiful culture, arts, music, culinary traditions, and legendary hospitality.
According to a report published last year, international tourists spent USD 1.3 billion per day and USD 462 billion in the year 2001 only. This is a clear manifestation of the tourism sector's resilience to thrive even through difficult situations.
I still remember the red double-decker buses that used to take tourists from London to Dhaka, thousands of Buddhists traveling from Japan, Korea, and other far-off destinations to Taxila and Takht-i-Bahi to visit the holy Buddhist sites, and the relics of the Gandhara Civilization. Young girls and boys from European and Western countries followed the hippie trail, traversing the great Khyber Pass and flocking to our beautiful camping sites. Not to forget the history lovers who traveled from far and wide to marvel at the treasure trove of beautiful ancient and Mughal architecture. And of course, the bravehearted who came to admire the beauty of our majestic mountains for trekking, challenging themselves by scaling the forbidding peaks.
Then, unfortunately, like so many other aspects of life in Pakistan, tourism also suffered as a result of the consequences of developments in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The clock of progressive development was forced to churn backward, and an artificial cape of fundamentalism and extremism was forced on a land known for its moderate, tolerant Sufi ethos. We saw a vicious crackdown on all art, culture, and heritage-related activities and genuine debate on what cultural and civilizational direction the country needed to take. A pervading darkness settled on this beautiful land of ours, full of music, dance, and all hues of life, with artists making waves around the world and attracting tourists to this land of many wonders.
The COVID-19 pandemic also had a massive social and economic impact on developed and developing economies. Marginalized groups and the most vulnerable were hit the hardest. However, even though travel and tourism remained primarily limited during the peak COVID years, according to a report published last year, international tourists spent USD 1.3 billion per day and USD 462 billion in the year 2001 only. This is a clear manifestation of the tourism sector's resilience to thrive even through difficult situations.
It is, however, painful to see how Pakistan has fallen behind its neighbors and other small developing countries in fully realizing its rich tourism potential. Only a few regions in the world can present a high-class combination of magnificent natural attractions, a rich variety of socioeconomic systems, and history as offered by Pakistan's Himalayan and Hindu Kush regions. This is primarily due to several challenges that hinder its growth and development. Some of the critical problems facing the industry include:
▪ One of the biggest challenges facing the tourism industry in Pakistan is the lack of proper infrastructure. This includes inadequate transportation facilities, limited numbers of quality hotels and restaurants, and a lack of modern tourist facilities. These shortcomings make it difficult for tourists to travel around the country and experience all it offers.
▪ The past three decades of instability in Afghanistan and terrorist attacks not only destroyed the tourism sector but also tarnished the soft image of Pakistan. Pakistan was declared an unsafe destination for visitors of all sorts, and negative travel advisories, particularly those issued by Western countries, became an inhibiting factor that badly hit tourist travel to Pakistan.
▪ In the face of unique challenges, Pakistan is proactively addressing security concerns to safeguard tourists. The nation's robust efforts to combat terrorism and enhance security infrastructure have borne fruit, fostering a positive environment for visitors. Besides these commendable strides, there remains an opportunity to reshape perceptions, inviting potential tourists to discover the rich and diverse experiences that Pakistan has to offer.
▪ Strict and long-winded visa procedures and requirements also discourage tourists from Pakistan.
▪ Despite its many attractions, Pakistan has not successfully promoted itself as a tourist destination to the broader world. The country lacks a comprehensive marketing strategy, which has hindered its ability to compete with other countries in attracting visitors.
▪ The rapid growth of the tourism industry in Pakistan has put pressure on the country’s fragile environment. Many tourist sites are located in areas with sensitive ecosystems, and the influx of visitors can lead to environmental degradation and harm to wildlife.
All is, however, not lost. We have seen that despite all the problems, and irrespective of poverty, unemployment, inflation, and infrastructure development, Northern areas have continued to attract dedicated hikers and mountaineers. A steady trickle of tourists is also returning to some selected destinations in Pakistan, but the massive movement of foreign tourists is still awaited. It is, however, encouraging to see that due to travel restrictions abroad because of COVID, there was a massive increase in internal travel in Pakistan, especially to the Northern Areas, which is a good sign and will encourage more of our fellow citizens to explore Pakistan before heading abroad and thus contributing to the socioeconomic development of these areas.
Due to travel restrictions abroad because of COVID, there was a massive increase in internal travel in Pakistan, especially to the Northern Areas, which is a good sign and will encourage more of our fellow citizens to explore Pakistan before heading abroad and thus contributing to the socioeconomic development of these areas.
To alleviate poverty and enrich the standard of life, an international-level promotion of tourism in Pakistan is needed. In addition to the promotion efforts, focused attention is essential to reboot our tourism sector. Some of these initiatives include providing attractive incentives to creative and talented individuals by the government in the tourism sector. This involves developing basic infrastructure such as a high-quality transportation system, roads, and airports. Additionally, the government offers tax incentives to tourism-related industries, such as hotels and other recreational facilities. Modern amenities, including high-speed internet and cashless banking, are made available, along with clean and contemporary toilet facilities and proper Basic Health Units.
Other measures include demonstrating the government's commitment to creating employment opportunities, income sources, and revenue for local inhabitants. It also involves fostering economic activities, maintaining political stability, ensuring the security of all tourists, and formulating sustainable tourism policies.
We also need to follow the lead of our other Muslim brethren. A large number of Muslim countries are beautiful and enjoyable tourist destinations and have largely relaxed their strict societal norms. Here, the example of the Maldives is very pertinent as it is a strictly Muslim country but one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world. It has become a tourist haven by relaxing its policies to portray a more tourist-friendly image.
The UAE, Malaysia, and Indonesia are excellent examples of booming tourism. Pakistan can study the systems and regulations of these prominent Muslim countries and emulate their model for tourism development. Mechanisms that cater to our religious and cultural sensitivities can easily be implemented.
In Pakistan, much effort is still required to encourage internal tourism. If proper facilities, transport accommodation, food, and recreational facilities for children and adults are available, there will be no shortage of internal tourists in Pakistan.
While we focus on promoting tourism in Northern areas, and it is an encouraging sign to see the beginning of adventure tourism, we have ignored other forms of tourism. There is no utilization of our coastal areas, although it is said that Ormara in Balochistan has the best sunset in the world; we never get to hear of the mud volcanoes, nor have we promoted the Thar Desert as a tourist destination. Similarly, there are no proper, educated, well-trained tourist guides with translation kits to guide and help tourists understand the value, history, and architectural details of our historic sites or the Mughal and British buildings.
Like other industries, tourism cannot flourish without proper planning, investment, marketing, and progressive and long-term enabling government policies. I would suggest forming a high-level commission with all relevant stakeholders on board to thoroughly investigate and give the government a road map for reviving the Pakistan tourism industry.
Therefore, the government needs to take a comprehensive approach to developing the tourism industry to move forward. This should include investing in infrastructure and tourism facilities, improving safety and security, and promoting the country as a tourist destination. We must ensure that tourism is sustainable and does not harm the environment. With the right strategies and investments, Pakistan's tourism industry can be a significant driver of economic growth and development for the country.
The writer has served as an Ambassador to China, the European Union, Belgium, Luxembourg. and Ireland. She has also authored and edited several books including Magnificent Pakistan, Pakistan-China All Weather Friendship, and Lost Cities of Indus.
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