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Tourism — Massive Untapped Potential

ISLAMABAD: Despite constraints like a strict visa regime, terrorism, poor infrastructure, inadequately trained human resources, and the lack of a robust tourism culture, Pakistan’s tourism sector still has vast potential to achieve significant milestones and act as an engine for economic growth.

If tapped carefully, the lucrative sector can turn around the lives of hundreds of millions for good.

With an amalgamation of the 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, and communities.

Diversified in cultures and cuisines, the country also boasts noble traditions of hospitality, brotherhood, and religious harmony rooted in civilisations like Gandhara and Indus.

It is geographically unique with archaeological heritage, and 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 capitalise on this potential although some strides have been made in the 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 in the 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 a series of shows at this event had attracted over 2.5 million travelers to over 4,500 destinations of the world.

“Pakistan has a variety of tourist destinations with the strongest and unique traditions of warm hospitality which is also acknowledged by foreign tourists,” said PTDC Managing Director Rana Aftab.

“Therefore, it is high time to promote awareness by educating people about their duties to preserve the environment and cultural heritage of the 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 organisations.

“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 7,500 Sikhs from India and around 2,000 from Europe, the USA, and Canada visit Pakistan annually. Similarly, around 2,000 Buddhists visit their holy sites 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 said.

He, however, mentioned some visa policy and security issues and suggested a conducive environment for international tourists to have a due share of earnings from this industry.

Pakistan, owing to 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 a better and secure environment and ease of traveling for tourists to earn direly needed foreign exchange,” he pleaded.

For this purpose, we can promote group tourism through registered and licensed tour operators globally, ensuring an amicable environment for international tourists.

Although PTDC arranges events like National Ice Hockey Championship at Ghulkin in Upper Hunza to promote winter tourism yet it also needs to broaden its spectrum to highlight multiple sites for tourism in the world tourism market.

Statistics show that during 2021-22, around 91,185,177 local tourists visited Northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s tourist 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 which is too small for a country bestowed with amazing landscapes, pines, and deodar forests, rich historical and cultural heritage, and snow-covered mountain peaks.

The country also boasts thousands of years old history with civilizations like Meher Garh, Mohenjo-Daro, and Gandhara and protected archeological sites.

Its potential for sports tourism is also unmatchable as the country possesses vast opportunities for hiking, ice hockey, skating, rock climbing, and mountaineering.

Therefore, if we cannot attract a vast number of foreign tourists despite having such countless bounties of Nature, we need to revisit our policies and approaches to benefit from this highly valuable income resource of our economy.

Source : Tribune