Pakistan’s tourism potential

By offering myriad employment opportunities and a boost to small businesses, tourism is considered one of the major sources of economic activity for any country. The global tourism industry is valued at $1600 billion and has developed itself as an instrument for creating considerable economic gains. It has also emerged as a major industry for developing and underdeveloped countries.
Robust tourism has a lot to offer to any country. Firstly, it increases gross domestic product (GDP), foreign exchange earnings and government revenue like tax collection. Second, it contributes in the generation of job opportunities for locals and foreigners. Third, there is an increase in average income of the local community and improvement in their living standard. Additionally, an improvement and increase in foreign and local investments in development and infrastructure including but not limited to tourism have also been witnessed.
Many countries like Malaysia, Turkey, Thailand and UAE have improved their economies through the tourism sector. Pakistan is home to various natural tourist spots and religious sites of ancient civilisations, and is therefore, blessed with natural and historic tourist spots. With immense natural beauty, a rich historical background and cultural diversity, Pakistan can become a hub of tourist activity from across the globe given proper infrastructural development, planning and a vision for the tourism industry by the government.
Tourism and culture share great linkages with other industries in the national economy, and are drivers of economic growth. They help in major indirect earnings across different sectors, and also play a part in enhancing foreign and private investments, trade, local development, and public infrastructure. To better understand the role of tourism in economic development, the model of Malaysia, which is considered a hot tourism destination in the world, should be followed. In 1999, Malaysia’s tourism board started a campaign called “Malaysia Truly Asia”, that proved to be a success by bringing in over 7.9 million of tourists into Malaysia. It led to the generation of around RM 12.3 billion in revenue.
Unfortunately, Pakistan lost its appeal for international tourists long ago due to terrorism and uprising of Taliban after 9/11. Even after peace prevailed, there were a number of obstacles hindering the way for the tourism industry in Pakistan. For example, Pakistan’s strict visa policy is one of the major reasons to discourage tourism in the country. The entire industry is also jeopardised in Pakistan through different optics and oversensitivity towards foreigners whether they are from western countries or neighbouring South Asian countries. Moreover, recreational items and free movement are prerequisites for the promotion of tourism. However, in Pakistan, acts like public destruction of confiscated alcohol works as a barrier for foreigners to visit the country. Furthermore, it only depicts the innate hypocrisy of society, where there is a huge difference in theory and practice of the people. Societal malpractices are conducted on a regular basis in society on a large scale.
On the other side, fellow Muslim countries are relaxing their policies to portray a more tourist-friendly image. UAE is the epitome of thriving tourism. They have recently allowed live-in relationships and the availability of alcohol in restaurants. Previously, it was only allowed in hotels and clubs. Saudi Arabia has also started to ease its policy by allowing cinema, theatre, women driving and clubs. Mechanisms should be developed which will address such concerns while keeping cultural and religious sensitivities in mind. Dubai is already the hotbed of thriving tourism and attracts a lot of investment from all over the world, including Pakistan in real-estate due to its tourism and convenient business policies.
Despite having the best tourist’s spots in the world from beaches to mountains, northern areas, vast deserts and oldest civilisations like Mehar Garh in Balochistan and other beautiful scenic locations in KP, Gilgit Baltistan, Sindh and South Punjab, Pakistan has yet to traverse a long road to revive its tourism industry. As a thriving economy, tourism has a lot to offer and Pakistan has a lot to learn in this regard. With optimum allocation of resources in the industry, maximum outputs can be achieved for the country, benefitting both the government and the locals. It is high time for Pakistan to revive its tourism industry by easing its visa policies and by opening up society and accepting the differences of others. It demands a more comprehensive effort on part of the government, civil society and media to help promote the positives of the country and to make it a tourist-friendly destination.

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