Tourism industry has been playing a significant role in the accretion of country’s economy around the world.Because of the industry’s important contributions, countries have invested in tourist attraction sites and infrastructure within their countries to attract both domestic and international tourists, which usually account for more than 50% of revenue (International tourism receipt – airfare, accommodation fees, shopping fee, money spent on food, and entrance fee paid for public facilities) earned from tourism in most countries.. According to different estimates, International tourism contributes around $1340 billion to the world economy, of which thehighest goes to the pockets of Europe.
The US made more income from tourism than any other country, a whopping $299 billion during last year. In second place, Spain (a smaller country than Pakistan on all accounts including tourist spots) earned around $96 billion. In south-east Asia, Thailand was the most popular country for foreign tourists with 35 million visitors in 2017. However, countries in Asia and the Pacific welcome only 24 per cent of the total number of foreign visitors. A popular American business magazine ‘Forbes’ has included Pakistan to the top ten ‘coolest places’ where tourists must go in the new year of 2019.
Pakistan is home of most stunning Himalayan peaks, including K-2 and various magnificent valleys. It has beautiful Arabian Sea, deserts, Indus valley, ancient Buddha’s civilization carved in its mountains and historic forts. With all this it is supposed to be one of the world’s greatest tourist destinations. But due to weak travel and tourism framework, low branding and marketing effectiveness and deduced priority given to the travel and tourism industry by the government, Pakistan had left behind among other countries around the globe. By improvising the ongoing projects, and also focusing on preserving the natural environment like many other countries, will not only attract more tourists but also would play a role model in the world as a cause in support on global issues.
The Tourism industry in Pakistan has gone through period of robust growth and bust, from its heyday during the 1970s when the country received unprecedented amounts of foreign tourists, thanks to the Hippie trail. In 2016, the number of foreign tourists visiting Pakistan was 965,498. If we compare, then almost 50 million domestic tourists make short trip to various locations of Pakistan usually between May to August. Beside domestic, the tourists from UK, USA, India and china also contributed in tourism inflow. The country’s attraction ranges from the ruin of the Indus Valley Civilization such as Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Taxila, to the Himalayan hill stations, which attract those interested in winter sports. Pakistan is home to several mountain peaks over 7000 m, which attracts adventurers and mountaineers from around the world, especially K2. The north part of Pakistan has many old fortresses, ancient architecture and the Hunza and Chitral valley, home to small pre-Islamic Animist Kalash people community. The romance of the historic Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is timeless and legendary, Punjab province has the site of Alexander’s battle on the Jhelum River and the historic city Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital, with many examples of Mughal architecture such as Badshahi Masjid, Shalimar Gardens, Tomb of Jahangir and the Lahore Fort.GilgitBaltistan is now considered to be the capital of tourism in Pakistan. It has the range of some of the highest mountains in the world, including K2, which is the second highest mountain in the world. Highly rich in landscape, mountains, glaciers, lakes, and valleys, GilgitBaltistan is also famous for its landmarks, culture, history, and people.
Beside other advantages, tourism which is an important industry will also see an immense boost as a result of CPEC in Pakistan. Mountaineers from around the globe will flock to Pakistan as soon as CPEC is operational. Increased Chinese investment in tourism sector of Pakistan via CPEC, after the building of road and railways to connect the two countries, this projects will generate new investment opportunities; “We are planning consultations with Pakistani companies on developing joint tourism products,” said by president of Yema Group Company Limited, Mr. Chen Qiang. Recently in 2015, more then 30 million tourists traveled to the Xinjiang province of China,” he said. “Special efforts are being made to set up a Pakistani pavilion in the park where individuals, including cooks, singers and artisans will be brought from Pakistan and given employment.” 2.5 million tourists both domestic and international travelled to northern areas in Pakistan in 2016. The tourism destinations could be extended to Xinjiang and other destinations both in China and Pakistan via CPEC. The 700-kilometre long coastal areas of Arabian Sea can be made accessible to the tourists via Kashgar-Gwadar road.
The region is considered to be a mountaineer’s paradise, since it is home to five of the ‘eight-thousands’ (peaks above 8,000 meters), as well as more than 50 mountains over 7,000 meters. It is also home to the world’s second highest peak K2 and the Nanga Parbat. Gilgit-Baltistan, also known as ‘The Jewel of Pakistan’, and rightly so, the region holds some of the most breath-taking views in the world, from the highest peaks in the world and the most number of glaciers in the world, to the most magnificent lakes in the world. With improving security situation in the rest of the country and better infrastructure, tourism is expected to grow. “For a few years now, between 10,000 and 20,000 tourists would visit Gilgit-Baltistan each year but in 2015, over 600,000 people visited Gilgit-Baltistan and, it is expected that around one million people will travel to GB,”said GB Tourism Secretary Jehanzeb.
In sum, Pakistan is fast becoming a tourism hub with its changing geo-strategic situation, improvement of internal as well as regional peace and liberalisation of tourists’ visa policy (plans to offer visa on arrival to nationals of 55 countries). Sara Barbieri, a specialist with GeoEx said, “Explore the valleys of Hunza, Shigar and Khaplu via the renowned Karakoram Highway. He also emphasised the hospitality of the locals, glacial blue of Attabad Lake, the centuries of history, juxtaposition of granite to greenery, the chance to walk through an age-old apricot orchard along water channels cut by hand, and the blazing snow-covered glory of Rakaposhi.The British Backpacker Society described Pakistan as “one of the friendliest countries on earth, with mountain scenery that is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination”. Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, around 1.7 million foreigners visited Pakistan in 2017 showing a remarkable increase in the ratio of tourists’ influx while domestic travellers jumped by 30 per cent.
The country has now been officially termed ‘safe for travel’ by the Portuguese government and British Airways also resumed operation in the region after more than 10 years.
Last, but not the least, Pakistan’s tourism development should be approached as a community-based effort with an emphasis on connecting foreign tourists with local businesses and experiences. A growing tourism sector could provide much-needed jobs across the spectrum of skill sets and geographic areas. The government can assist by facilitating academic and cultural exchanges while creating an environment that enables the private sector to develop tourism.Inviting foreigners to experience Pakistani hospitality carries more potential to improve the country’s image than any manicured narrative delivered in an official speech.
The writer Adeel Mukhtar Mirza is a research scholar at Islamabad Policy Research Institute. The author delivers lectures on international relations and the changing world dynamics. He has numerous published articles in the domain of International Relations. He graduated as a Strategic Studies’ scholar from National Defense University, Islamabad.