Globally, the tourism industry generates nearly 10% of the world GDP, while in Pakistan its share is merely 2.7%. In many countries, this share is around 30% with almost similar opportunities for attracting tourists. Malaysia with its ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ brand earns roughly $20 billion annually through tourism while Turkey earns $40 billion. India under the slogan of ‘Incredible India’ continues to attract more and more tourists despite its not so impressive infrastructure and transportation system. Pakistan’s tourism potential is unlimited. Trekking, mountaineering, white water rafting, wild boar hunting, desert jeep safaris, skiing, are some of the attractions for adventurous travelers. While the government is creating a broader policy to attract foreign tourists to the country, it is up to the private sector to step in to cater to the requirements of the tourists on the ground. All these efforts will result in a new era of progress and prosperity in the country.
Despite such richness in culture, tradition, historical sites, civilization, beautiful valleys, Pakistan has failed miserably to attract bulk number of the tourists to the country, whereas our neighbors have done impressively. It is rightly said that Pakistan, while being rich in natural resources, lacks management that would befit the tourism industry, which was earlier marred by terrorism and, in the recent past, the negligence from the successive governments. To take the bull by the horns and to boost the tourism industry the present government must place result-oriented measures. Earlier, certain campaigns like ‘Amazing Pakistan, ‘Visit Pakistan’ were launched but unfortunately, they left the task unaccomplished.
The real pull of tourists
Pakistan has recently been touted as “World’s Top Travel Destination for 2020” with a booming tourism industry than ever before, but the key to unlock the full potential of this industry lies in the hands of the IT sector. The increasing number of tourists in Pakistan is an assuring sign regarding the sustainability of this industry in coming years. While the IT sector has divested its expertise to other industries such as finance in the form of fintechs, here lies a great opportunity for investors and local IT startups to tap into the increasingly lucrative yet comparatively untapped tourism industry of Pakistan. Not only the establishment of such e-tourism initiatives will create great investment opportunities for the IT sector, but also it will help in promoting a softer image of the country, which in turn would holistically elevate all sectors of the national economy by indulging the interest of more investors.
Pakistan follows a liberal investment regime for investors’ confidence and conducive environment to attract local and foreign investment. During September FY 2019-20, the FDI recorded at US$385.3 million showing an increase of 75.6 percent as against US$ 182.1 million during the same month last year. Investments in tourism had the potential to generate over half a million new direct and induced jobs over the next five years. To increase the number of tourist, the government had introduced an open Online Visa System for the citizens from 50 countries. The government had allocated Rs. 2 billion for Clean Green Pakistan Movement/Tourism in budget 2019-20.
The number of tourists in Pakistan have exponentially increased in the last 10 years despite the country earning the fourth position in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report. The numbers of tourists are strongly expected to increase in coming years with further improvement in security conditions. However foreign tourists only make up for merely 7.4% of the entire tourism and travel spending in the country. One of the major factors in this hesitation of foreign tourists in coming to Pakistan is due to the lack of awareness of destinations in Pakistan as well as a lack of any renowned online platform that provides end-to-end travel solutions to the tourists.
While foreign tourists can be attracted by developing exclusive and secluded resorts, much like the Maldives or Bali, domestic sea-based tourism is in itself a lucrative sector to tap. By making buildings and beaches for different sports like beach basketball, beach volleyball, beach baseball, river rafting, scuba diving, swimming, boating and water activities etc., it will attract local people and tourists and also helps in economy. Housing schemes, flats and apartments attract and influence beauty of country near the coasts and improve tourism. We can make our beaches or coast like gold coast. It is the biggest attraction for tourists as it influences their economy too. Coastal Development and coastal tourism are now provincial subjects and since the governments of Sindh and Balochistan independently handle their sections of the coast, a lack of cooperation prevents seamless integration.
[box type=”note” align=”” class=”” width=””]The writer is a Karachi based freelance columnist and a banker by profession. He could be reached on Twitter @ReluctantAhsan[/box]