As it seems Pakistan has repelled the first attack of Covid-19. After that the govt has opened various sectors of economy including tourism which is life line for us in the back drop of faltering exports and global slowdown. It’s hoped that after complete eradication of coivd, all over the world people would be making more flights, visiting more countries and spending more on tourism than ever before. Over the decades, Tourism has experienced continued growth and deepening diversification to get the status of rapidly growing sector of the world economy. To understand the important role played by tourism industry in the global economy, the world economic forum has recently launched its two year report of travel and tourism competitiveness of 136 countries across the globe. According to WEF report Pakistan stands 124 out of 136 countries. It means the country has improved its ranking by just one point as earlier, Pakistan was ranked 125th out of 141 countries in 2015. In other words Pakistan still has a very long way to go and its current status is like Zero when we look at the potential of the country’s tourism resources and capacity.
No doubt Pakistan possess countless valuable tourist resources and Attractions which could be an important vehicle for reducing the widespread persistent poverty in its rural and urban areas, the world economic forum reports suggest that the potential of Tourism in the country has largely been ignored and unrealized by our policy makers. Both federal and provincial governments seem to be ignoring the role which tourism can play in accelerating our economic growth. Despite the fact that we have Centuries old civilization, Rich culture, stunning mountains, beautiful lakes, ancient archaeological sites and remains, natural parks and people with hospitable nature, we hardly managed to attract only close to one million tourists. While Spain, France and Germany are earning hundred of billion dollars from millions of visitors just visiting their cities like Madrid, Paris and Berlin. Even India has scored better than us. According to the WEF rankings India stood at 40th position this year. It has improved over 52nd in 2015 and 65th in 2013. Despite religious intolerance is on rise, local’s attack foreigners, stories of sexual assaults repeated in TV bulletins coming up from India, they have made tremendous improvement owing to their government policies, private sector investments, and mass awareness of tourism potential in economy and projection of their country as heaven on earth for foreign tourists.
Unfortunately we fail to follow the regional and global scope of tourism, which has resulted in lowest economic and social development indicators. WEF reports say that the amount south Asia countries per capita receipts from tourism are highest in Sri lanka and lowest in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nepal, Bhutan and India lie in the range in between. Off course Maldives is an exception in South Asia and per capita receipts of both tourists and income are very high in Maldives. It is attributed to the location, Natural Beaches and Friendly environment of Maldives which make it a role model for other countries in the region.
In our country apart from government apathy, there are several other reasons that contribute to current low profile of Pakistan in global rankings. But none looms greater than the security threat that plagues the country. Safety and security is a prime concern for travelers and critical factor in determining competitiveness in the tourism sector. Security situation is also an important index used by WEF while assigning rankings. Since 9/11 and war on terror in the region over all security situation in Pakistan has been a major concern for its own citizens. Then there are problems like political unrest, insurgency in Baluchistan, terrorist attacks across the country and sectarian violence and persecution of minorities’ which tarnish our image at global level. Street crimes in big cities and sense of no protection in rural areas are also some of the factors that deprive us from benefits of Tourism industry. Even one can see a huge number of Pakistanis visiting other countries instead of their own tourist’s areas. The question of law and order is further aggravated by slow response of law enforcing agencies in taking action against offender. Hence the picture gets a more gloomy shape.
Being concerned with safety and security of their citizens, many counties have travel advisory asking to take extra precautions while visiting Pakistan. Some countries even advise their citizens not to travel our country. Beside this we have structural problems in the form of inadequate tourism facilities and services, poor road, rail and air network, complicated travel procedure for foreigners, some cultural barriers like alcoholic ban religious and gender sensitivity especially for those who come from open societies of the west. To promote tourism we have some white elephants like PTDC but its output is negligible and largely unsatisfactory. Among the four provincial governments only KP government has showed some resolve for developing tourism industry in the province. The provincial government has adopted strategy of public private partnership and some steps have been taken like Malam jabba motel restoration, development of chair lift, opening of PTDC and other government rest houses to general public in upper dir and Natiagali areas. However there is need of more changes, gross policy initiatives and coordinated strategy by relevant departments. Provincial governments need to realize that Tourism industry has the capacity to bring economic uplift and eliminate poverty. The different branches of tourism industry like, transport, accommodation, catering, food and beverages, excursion and recreational facilities look home made products and cottage industries of different items produced locally like wood work, shoe making, shawl making, embroidery etc can generate employment and income for the most underprivileged sections of population. However while making polices and decisions for developing tourism in the country, Environmental factor should be taken into consideration. Only eco friendly tourism should be promoted and encouraged. Wild life protection, climatic changes, noise, water streams contamination, trees and green covers and litter factor in Tourist Zones shall be addressed properly.