ISLAMABAD: Despite setbacks of earthquakes, floods and Covid-19, Pakistan’s tourism sector still has vast potential and can still gear to achieve significant milestones serving as an engine of economic growth and uplifting residents of remote hilly areas.
An amalgamation of scenic beauty of mountain ranges, vast plains, soothing lakes, gushing rivers, enchanting coastline, calm deserts and religio-historic monuments, the country hosts socio-cultural relics gathered from knowledge and experience of invaders, rulers, historians, communities and anthropologists.
Diversified in cultures and cuisines, the country also boasts of noble traditions of hospitality, brotherhood, religious harmony encompassing Bhudda, Gandhara, Indus, Mughals, Sikhs and other civilizations in its architecture, attire and abode.
It is geographically unique with archaeological heritage, spiritual and cultural sites providing ample tourism opportunities for nature lovers and followers of different religions. Thus one can judiciously claim that Pakistan’s tourism industry holds limitless potential.
But unlike many countries of the world earning billions of dollars annually through their tourism industry, Pakistan is still struggling to fully capitalize this potential although some strides surface in recent past like winning the Best New Exhibitor Award at Travel and Adventure Show 2023 at New York in January this year.
Around 20 prominent companies of Tourism and Hospitality Sector along with provincial tourism departments from Punjab, Sindh, KPK, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan presented Pakistan’s rich tourism potential at the international show.
The participating companies also had meetings with major tour operators in USA and counterparts in other countries as series of shows at this event had attracted over 2.5 million travelers to over 4,500 world’s top destinations.
“Pakistan has variety of tourist destinations with the strongest and unique traditions of warm hospitality by local people as also acknowledged by foreign tourists,” said Managing Director, PTDC, Rana Aftab. “Therefore, it is high time to promote awareness by educating our people of their duties to preserve environment and cultural belongings of our country.”
He said Pakistan’s participation in Travel and Trade Show has been highly impactful in terms of response from the public and international tourism organizations.
“The event provided an opportunity to interact with top international and domestic tour operators, cruise lines and travel providers,” he stated. “Besides routine tourism, we also have vast potential to promote cultural and religious tourism by attracting believers of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikh religions.”
The statistics show that on average around 7500 Sikh from India and around 2000 from Europe, USA and Canada visit Pakistan annually. Similarly, around 2000 Buddhist visit the religious heritage in Pakistan. This is far below the potential as there are around 30 million Sikhs and around 500 million Buddhism believers living in different countries across the world.
“Pakistan is a country with landmarks of various religious ethnicities and unexplored potential for religious tourism,” Rana Aftab said. “Therefore, PTDC is pursuing a plan to boost religious tourism for promoting inter-faith harmony and revenue generation.”
He however mentioned to some visa policy and security issues and suggested conducive environment for international tourists to have due share of earning from this industry.
“As the tourism sector directly contributes to US$ 1.5 trillion and indirectly around US$ 7.5 trillion, Pakistan owning vast natural and cultural beauty and religious tourism potential can earn its due share,” Rana Aftab said.
“Therefore keeping in view its economic value, we need to ensure better and secure environment and ease of travelling for tourists to earn direly needed foreign exchange,” he pleaded.
As we witnesses scattered initiatives like participating in Travel and Adventure Show 2023 at New York and celebrating 2023 as China-Pakistan Year of Tourism Exchange also holding Gandhara Art Exhibition at Palace Museum in Beijing, there is dire need to widen this scope to other countries for having due share in global tourism economy.
For the purpose, we can promote group tourism through registered and licensed tour operators globally, ensuring amicable environment for international tourists.
Although PTDC arranges events like National Ice Hockey Championship at Ghulkin, Upper Hunza to promote winter tourism yet it also needs to broaden its spectrum to highlight multiple sites for tourism in world tourism market.
The statistics show that during 2021-22, around 91,185,177 local tourists visited Northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tourists destinations like Chitral, Kalash, Dir-Kumrat, Swat, Kalam, Dasu, Kohistan, Manshera and Naran.
But this figure stood just at 3,500 in terms of foreign tourists that is too small for a country bestowed with amazing landscape, pines and deodar forests, rich historical and cultural heritage, snow covered mountain peaks in Himalaya, Hindukash and Korakorum ranges and glaciers, lakes, valleys, mesmerizing lush green landscapes and unique flora and fauna.
The country also boasts of 9000 years old history of mankind through civilizations like Meher Garh, Mohenjo-Daro and Gandhara and protected archeological sites and its potential for sports tourism is also less to none presenting vast opportunities for hiking, ice hockey, skating, rock climbing and mountaineering.
Therefore, if we cannot attract vast number of foreign tourists despite having such countless bounties of Nature, we definitely need to revisit our policies and approach for benefitting from this highly valuable income resource of our economy.