Pakistan has traditionally been at the cross roads for different civilizations, which have traversed through the territory that is now part of the present day country. Pakistan comprises various and diverse geographical topographies including plateaus, hills, plains, mountains, deserts, and coastal areas. The legacy of different civilizations and presence of local cultures coupled with diverse geographies offer scenic and attractive prospects for domestic and international tourists. Lately, there is a serious realization that since Pakistan has been one of the most attractive destinations in tourism, its potential ought to be realized. Though Pakistan’s tourism sector flourished during its early decades from 1950s-1970s, however, the trajectory dipped over the years due to country’s struggle in improving the security environment as a result of post-1979 regional environment. Furthermore, the horrendous terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed global security landscape, which also adversely impacted Pakistan’s tourism sector. The department of tourism had to wait until 2004, when it became an exclusive ministry and after a short stint the department was devolved to provinces under the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment in 2010.1 However, the present federal government is determined to revive Pakistan’s capability to attract international tourism by promoting coordination among different departments, including offering private sector with a lead role.
PAKISTAN’S TOURISM POTENTIAL
The scope and potential of tourism in Pakistan holds optimistic prospects. The decision by the government to introduce a new visa regime aims to relax the process of acquiring a visa. The new visa regime will grant three-month e-visas to foreigners in 175 countries within a period of 7-10 working days. In the first phase of this regime, citizens of the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Turkey and China will be granted e-visas within a brief period of 7-10 working days. Under the new regime, business visas for five years will be issued within 24 hours. Moreover, the average visa fee for different visa categories has been reduced by 22 to 65 percent.2 In order to bring in international tourists to mesmerizing mountainous areas of Gilgit – Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), the federal government has removed the restriction of Non-Objection Certificate (NOC).3 Pakistan has also started engaging Western countries in order to revisit their travel advisory for Pakistan, since the security situation has significantly improved due to successful military and Intelligence-based operations against terrorist networks.4 The very objective of this exercise is to attract visitor exports from Western countries. Recently, the government also organized “Pakistan Tourism Summit” in which President of Pakistan stressed the need to explore Pakistan’s tourism potential. He alluded to Pakistan’s ability to offer diverse range of tourism experiences, including religious and traditional tourism, heritage, sports and cultural tourism and the economic opportunities it could offer for businesses and communities in Pakistan.5
The socio-economic prospects of tourism in Pakistan appear promising, provided the government and private stakeholders prioritize their policy with coordinated efforts to induce drastic changes in the industry. The figures recorded in the travel and tourism sector in Pakistan are promising as it is evident by the rise in total visitor exports which was 3.7 percent of total exports in 2017, that grew by 4.7 percent in 2018 and likely to grow per annum by 6.4 percent from 2018 to 2028.6 There will be a nearly 100 percent rise in monetary terms from US$ 936.4 million worth of visitor exports to US$ 1,826.4 million in the coming decade. Investment in travel and tourism was 9.1 percent of the total investment in the country in 2017, which stood at US$ 3,893.4 million. This increased by 5.2 percent in 2018 and it is likely to rise by 4.1 percent per annum over the next decade to US$ 6,142.0 million.7 Moreover, the total contribution of travel and tourism to employment (directly and indirectly) was almost 6.5 percent of total employment, which makes it to 3,894,000 jobs. This trend grew by 2.6 percent in 2018 to a round off figure of 4 million jobs and is expected to rise by 2.3 percent per annum to 5,017,000 jobs in 2028 (6.5 percent of total).8 The total contribution of the travel and tourism to GDP was US$ 22,286.3 million, 7.4 percent of GDP in 2017 and rise by 5.4 percent per annum to US$ 39,851.6 million by 2028.9 However, Pakistan in 2017, in comparison to world average of US$ 4.8 billion, received investment of US$ 3.9 billion, which stands relatively lower than Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Pakistan’s visitor exports stood at US$ 0.9 billion, which is lower than the world average of US$ 8.1 billion and South Asian average of US$ 6.1 billion in the same year.10 However, Pakistan’s indicators on tourism can largely be improved provided that certain challenges are addressed, opportunities are fully utilized and a sustained approach is adopted.
Infrastructure and Public Services
One of the major factors that the government has prioritized is the development of infrastructure and public services to different tourist attractions across Pakistan. Building up of infrastructure will allow government to promote and attract international and domestic tourists to new locations. Similarly, development of different municipal services such as waste management services, emergency and health services and setting up of tourist police departments across Pakistan will also enable in further reinforcing Pakistan’s tourism credentials. It appears that these areas of improvement will soon be addressed as government has prioritized development of tourism sector. Moreover, it is also worth mentioning that bilateral collaboration between China and Pakistan under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in form of China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has enabled Pakistan to expand network of road highways and power generation plants. These notable developments have allowed Pakistan to reduce inter-city travel distances and also to favorite tourist destinations.
Private Sector and Tourism Sector
Traditionally, in every sector the government’s role is as a facilitator and enables the private sector to pitch itself in for provision of revenue generating services. The government needs to provide an encouraging space to hospitality industry to flourish.11 Private hotels and markets can be allocated spaces at planned areas in order to overcome spacing issues. Local specialized cuisines can serve to provide an additional reason for attracting tourists to favorite tourist destinations. Similarly, international associations including United Nations World Tourism Organization, along with other international bodies, are not fully mobilized to improve Pakistan’s position among international tourist agencies for bringing in international tourists to Pakistan. Government’s inclination to promote formalization of economy will enable private sector to connect different tourist locations with modern banking and payment systems.
Devolution of Authority and Promotion of Tourism
Though the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment was instrumental in strengthening the parliamentary democracy in Pakistan; however, the amendment devolved the tourism departments to provinces too. The new structure of tourism departments requires federal and provincial governments to coordinate work. The prospects for overcoming this challenge appear optimistic as the government has sought to promote and revive Pakistan as a favorite international tourist destination by promoting cooperation between provincial departments and the federal government and providing private sector with a lead role in development of the tourism sector.12
Geographic, Spiritual, Cultural, Sports and Eco-Tourism
As mentioned earlier, there are great prospects for Pakistan of varying kinds of tourism in the country. Blessed with different kinds of geographical topographies nearly all kinds of terrains have various tourist attracttions for domestic and internatio–nal tourists. In Pakistan’s South, the landscape consists of a coastline of 1,046 km, which can be developed and pro-moted in order to attract both domestic and foreign tourism.13 To this end, maritime tourism can be promoted as it can be instrumental in developing Pakistan’s blue economy and generating lucrative revenue.14
Mountain Tourism in Northern Areas
Scenic locations in Northern areas of Pakistan, covered with Himalayan massifs, serve as attractive tourist destination for adventure seekers. Locations for adventure tourism in Northern parts particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and GB have multiple locations to help satiate the appetite of thrill and adventure seeking tourists in mountainous areas.15 Moreover, the decision by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to identify 20 new valleys for promoting tourism will generate new tourist destinations and create additional business opportunities for travel operators, new businesses to flourish and new opportunities to arise.16
New Locations in Punjab
Moreover, the Punjab government is also working on a program to introduce different locations for recrea-tional tourism. The government has identified five new locations. These include Namal Lake in Mianwali district, the second location is Koh-e-Suleman Mountains in Dera Ghazi Khan, the third location is Attock Khurd in Attock district, the fourth location is Kotli Satiyan near Islamabad, which hosts Phofandi Lake over 7,035 feet above sea-level, and the fifth new location is Uchali Lake.17
Cultural, Sports and Eco-Tourism
Pakistan has a rich brew of diverse subcultures across the country. The country also has a rich history of Buddhist, Indo-Greek, and Mughal heritage. Promoting these to international tourists interested in exploring the cultural and heritage facets of Pakistan can increase the volume of incoming international tourists. Pakistan is also promoting adventure sporting events such as ski-festivals held at Naltar, Malam Jabba every year during winters. Moreover, jeep rallies held each year in Gwadar port city, Cholistan desert, and Chakwal district can bring in prospective international Jeep Rally competitors. Similarly, the government is also working on a new plan to promote eco-tourism as a means of promoting environmentally-sustainable and responsible tourism by tourists across the country.
Spiritual and Religious Tourism
In order to attract religious tourism, Pakistan has decided to develop the Kartarpur Corridor in collaboration with India in order to allow over a million Sikh pilgrims from India and other parts of the world to visit Kartarpur Sahib for religious tourism.18 There is also great potential for promoting international tourism at historical Buddhist sites in Taxila, Takhti Bahi, Swat, Moen jo Daro and Kahu jo Daro in Sindh, which can bring inflow of foreign tourists mostly Buddhist visitors from North and South East Asia. Hindu pilgrims from India, Southeast Asia, and western countries can be attracted for spiritual and religious tourism to religious locations of Hindu religion across Pakistan.19 Shrines of Sufi saints across all of Pakistan can be promoted to attract devotees and spiritual tourists from within Pakistan and all over the world as many of these Sufis are regarded not only by Muslims but also followers of other faiths for having promoted religious tolerance and inter-faith harmony.20
National Policy, Coordination and Regulation
The current government has tried to work on improving coordination between the centre and provinces, despite that the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment had devolved the tourism department under the ambit of respective provincial govern-ments. The newly-constituted National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) has decided to enhance coordination between the centre and provincial departments for promotion of tourism destinations in Pakistan and abroad.21 The government is also inclined to promote sports and cultural activities as they are likely to promote tourism during such events. Developing and sustaining a coordination mechanism under the NTCB and bringing synergy in activities with respect to development of infrastructure, facilitating private sector for investment will enable development of the tourism sector in Pakistan.
Promotion of International Tourism to Pakistan
Return of normalcy to Pakistan’s social and economic milieu is one of the key accomplishments of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism. The positive outcome of this is visible in the tourism sector as well. In past few years, Pakistan has started gaining heightened interest by international tourists. This is evident by the number of vlogs over YouTube and other social media platforms regarding Pakistan’s culture, heritage, cuisines, adventure sports and diverse landscapes. This promotion enabled generation of renewed interest among international tourists to explore Pakistan’s rich cultural experience and hospitality. Moreover, Pakistan’s public and private sector have the opportunity to partner with international tour and travel operators to bring in more international tourists. This will allow the industry to upscale the flow of foreign exchange and uptick domestic economic growth. Similarly, the Pakistan Tourism Development Cooperation (PTDC) can partner with domestic and international private stakeholders to offer economical and attractive packages to international tourists to Pakistan.
Branding Strategy, Advertising and Marketing
In order to attract tourism from abroad, Pakistan has to work on a synchronized promotion strategy. Under this strategy, it will need to adopt an innovative, creative and international branding strategy.22 Marketing campaigns designed at promoting tourism in Pakistan at International Expos and advertising it in international media will enable strategic targeting of potential tourists to Pakistan. Harnessing different organs of state such as Pakistan’s flag carrier Pakistan Air Lines, Pakistan Railways, and Transport companies can disseminate single branding messages for promoting Pakistan both at national and international level.
Encouraging Private and International Investment
Pakistan’s tourism sector holds the potential of offering a world class experience to international tourists and travelers. The efforts by NTCB and government’s Board of Investment (BOI) are encouraging for private and international businesses to make their investment in Pakistan. The government is also inclined to remove barriers for attracting more international businesses. Since, the ongoing trends suggest that the tourism sector will yield promising returns; international businesses need to capitalize upon this opportunity and direct their investments in Pakistan’s tourism sector. Investment from international business in tourism sector will reinforce and elevate the scale of international tourists to Pakistan.
Pakistan has the potential of becoming one of the most favorite tourist destinations in the world. Coordination between different stakeholders on key factors including branding, marketing, promotion, development of infrastructure, and promoting investments from private sector can attract more international tourists, seeking to visit Pakistan. Continuing the upward trajectory of international tourism will renew interest of international businesses to invest in Pakistan’s tourism industry. Coming up with comprehensive and novel solutions to promote diverse forms of tourism will soon enable Pakistan to convert its promising tourism potential into a reality.
The writer works as Consultant at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Islamabad, Pakistan.
1 Shakeel Ahmed Ramay, “Tourism Development: What Needs to be Done,” Daily Times, December 22, 2018.
2 “PM Imran Launches E-visa Policy for 175 Countries,” Express Tribune, March 14, 2019.
3 Shafqat Ali, “New Visa Policy a Huge Success,” Nation, May 10, 2019, https://nation.com.pk/10-May-2019/new-visa-policy-a-huge-success-qureshi (accessed June 3, 2019).
5 “President Alvi calls for Exploiting Pakistan’s Vast Tourism Potential,” News International, April 3, 2019.
6 “Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2018 Pakistan,” World Travel and Tourism Council, 2018, https:// www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic-impact-research/archived/countries-2018/pakistan2018.pdf (accessed June 6, 2019).
10 Ibid, 7.
11 Rai Nasir Ali, Muhabashir Ehsan and Hassan, “Pakistan’s Tourism – Huge Untapped and Way Forward,” Express Tribune, January 28, 2019.
13 “Pak Navy Organizes Seminar on Maritime Tourism Development,” Nation, April 5, 2019.
15 “Tourism for All… The Unexplored Potential of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” Express Tribune, November 26, 2018.
16 “Atif Khan,“Trying to Open KP to the World,” Global Village Space, November 17, 2018, https://www.global villagespace.com/atif-khan-trying-to-open-kp-to-the-world/ (accessed June 1, 2019).
17 Imran Adnan, “Punjab to Get Four Key Tourist Spots,” Express Tribune, February 3, 2019.
18 Press Trust of India, “Pakistan Grants Rs 100 Crore in Budget for Kartarpur Corridor”, Times of India, June 12, 2019, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/pak-grants-rs-100-crore-in-2019-20-budget-for-kartarpur-corridor-project/articleshow/69749925.cms (accessed May 28, 2019).
19 Farooq Haq and Anita Medhekar, “Spiritual Tourism between India and Pakistan: A Framework for Business Opportunities and Threats,” World Journal of Social Sciences 5, no. 2 (April 2015): 190-200.
21 “Private Sector’s Investment Important to Uplift Tourism: Bukhari,” Pakistan Observer, April 8, 2019.
22 Rai Nasir, “Pakistan’s Tourism.”