According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, tourism has expanded over the last three decades to become one of the most successful and leading economic sectors in the world, driving socio-economic development and growth across the globe. Therefore, it is evident that developing countries are increasingly pursuing the enhancement of this sector with the hope of attracting investment and employment benefits.
Tourism is the main source of income for the locals of Pakistan. Due to its diverse culture, people, and landscape, thousands of domestic and international tourists visit these areas.
In 2009, Pakistan was ranked 113 out of 130 countries to visit according to the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report and currently ranks at 121. The reasons include the safety and security environment for international tourists. However, the current government is focusing on this sector through various initiatives since it is highly optimistic about the revenue that can be generated through these policies.
According to the new visa-regime to attract tourism from around the world, citizens from 175 countries will now be able to avail of the facility of an electronic visa. For the same, Pakistan has suggested for the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) countries to exploit a single visa facility. This is because many KFC’s cities share historic linkages which will help tourists to explore all of these in one go. This policy will automatically foster string relations among the states who will get the opportunity to learn from each other vis-à-vis tourism.
There is no doubt that Pakistan still hasn’t effectively exploited a large part of its tourism potential. There are still ample Sufi shrines, old temples, and many Buddhist religious sites. The archaeological remains of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa civilizations and centuries-old temples are a few among places that offer a glimpse of the archaic heritage. Therefore, we can predict a brighter future for our tourism industry which will boost our ailing economy.
In February 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting regarding the promotion of environment-friendly tourism in Pakistan. He declared that the country has a lot of tourism potential which would strengthen the economy, create job opportunities, and eradicate unemployment. The meeting deliberated upon the efforts to promote tourism Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, coastal areas, and protect the cultural and historic heritage in the Northern Areas. Keeping in mind the environment, values, and traditions he directed to formulate necessary measures and policies regarding the provision of proper facilities to tourists. A master vision plan was devised which would prove to be helpful in foreign investment in the tourism sector and improvement of infrastructure in the country.
Worldwide, the Hospitality and Tourism sector accounts for 10.4% of global GDP and 9.9% of total employment, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council in 2018. However, in Pakistan, it is currently the sector accounts for 7.1% of GDP and 6.3% of total employment. These statistics imply the possibility of expansion in the tourism sector, furthermore, the current progress is also deemed commendable by the ministries in Pakistan. KPK Senior Minister Tourism Atif Khan’s efforts in ensuring sustainable tourism are evident by his works such as launching the KPK cleanliness campaign across the province in areas including Naran, Kaghan, Shogran, Kumrat, Kalam, etc. Moreover, the offenders are also fined heavily so that the culture of pollution can be eradicated. Similarly, the recent work is done by PM’s Special Assistant for Overseas Pakistanis and Chairman National Tourism Coord Board Zulfi Bukhari to plan and
implement policies for the PTDC structure and formation of the National Tourism Coordination Board are also significant steps towards fostering the tourism sector for socio-economic growth.
However, there is still a dire need to address certain obstacles like capacity issues which will further contribute to the government’s initiatives and bring them to fruition. The government needs to enhance and elevate the skill set of the workforce employed in this sector. Human resource and hospitality is a key asset in the tourism industry. This workforce, particularly in hotels, travel guides, and restaurants are in direct contact with the tourists, therefore the success of the tourism industry heavily relies on the service delivery component, that is, the services and attitudes of the employees towards their guests. We can invest in infrastructure, international and local marketing but if the workforce is not trained enough to meet the needs of its customers, we may not be able to reach our destination of an improved and sustainable tourist industry. In addition to this, customer satisfaction leads to repeated visits and a good reputation among customer peers.
As Pakistan’s government puts together its strategy to develop the tourism sector, they realize that the incorporation of ecotourism and sustainability seems to be the need of this time. The tourism potential in Pakistan is no hidden fact, the history and culture of this land, the mountains, the landscape, nature, however, the real challenge doesn’t lie in identifying the tourism potential, but to ponder about the ways that this can conserve our nature and cultural heritage. Researchers and experts define eco-tourism as a “ link between tourism, the environment, and sustainability within a framework of community-based development”. Therefore the social and natural environments are principal resources and our goal should be to protect, preserve, and develop these assets.
The policies and initiative undertook by the government to nurture and prosper the tourism sector is indeed laudable however we still have a long way to go to achieve our sustainable objectives. This requires a planned and systematic approach that addresses every aspect of the overall strategy. Only a thoughtful approach to developing ecotourism can add depth to the economy, without an extensive strategy, ecotourism will merely remain a jargon for social media sites.