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How to promote tourism in Pakistan?

There are several challenges to tourism industry in Pakistan. However, the sociological challenge whereby locals feel threatened due to a perceived idea of cultural demolition. What should the government do to ensure the protection of local culture?

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Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday said there was a lot of tourism potential in Pakistan and promotion of that sector would not only strengthen the economy but also create business and job opportunities to numerous local people.

The prime minister stated this while chairing a meeting about the promotion of environment-friendly tourism in the country. The meeting deliberated upon the promotion of tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, coastal areas of the country, and protection and renovation of historic buildings in Northern Areas.

The prime minister told the meeting to lay down a policy about the promotion of tourism, keeping in view the environmental, natural beauty and local values and traditions. He directed to formulate an advance policy and necessary measures regarding provision of facilities to the tourists on their arrival in the Northern Areas in coming months.

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Imran Khan also directed to complete process of preparing a master vision plan in next six weeks regarding the promotion of tourism at four coastal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and one each in Punjab and Balochistan provinces. The master vision plan would prove to be helpful about foreign investment in the tourism sector and the construction of infrastructure in the country.

The prime minister directed the KP chief secretary to complete the process of revival of the government rest houses in the province and its handing over to the private sector for the promotion of tourism in the province.

A Lahore-based tour operator spoke to GVS and highlighted the state of tourism in Pakistan. He also highlighted the flaws in PTI’s tourism policy. “Prime Minster Imran Khan’s government invited English/Western bloggers to promote tourism through creating a soft, tourist-friendly image of the country. A summit, many conferences and meetings had been called in to work out on the idea.

The government also changed its visa policy so that those wishing to visit Pakistan shall not face any difficulty on technical grounds. Everyone appreciated these efforts. Tour operators loved it for them it was about to expand business and profit. Pakistan was all set to welcome foreigners and earn money and good name at the same time without spending much. The hope was that the people will come in and help us strengthen our economy,” he said.

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Moreover, he says that “for someone who has been in the field for many years, the intentions of the government were both encouraging and noble. But, as a matter of fact, what Khan’s team lacked was substantial policy framework which created some serious questions about the future of the plans. There has been no serious, composed and comprehensive policy to address the challenges Pakistan is facing regarding tourism. The disassociation or unnoticed detachment of the policy makers from the ground realties, I fear, may not allow Khan’s idea of Naya Pakistan get transformed into a concrete reality in the field of tourism.”

While talking about infrastructure, he said that “there is no adequate infrastructure developed by the government which might have been helpful for the tourists. For instance, in many areas there are no roads and at some places roads are in poor condition. Similarly, land sliding blocks all the roads sometimes and there is no effective measure to let the people commute safely. Every other tour operator will let you know that they have experienced some serious and perennial challenges due to the absence of adequate infrastructure”.

There are hotels and restaurants but in very limited number. Does the government have any idea that what happens in these areas if tourists are more than expected in number? How will foreign tourists manage to stay in such areas if they decide to come in? Moreover, is there any policy mechanism to have a check over these hotels to fix the prices and fare? If not, is there anything on the cards to address such serious issues?

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This is something we Pakistanis are not comfortable to talk about. There is a misperception about ourselves that we’re extra-caring and hospitable people. Such assertions have some elements of truth but cannot be treated as a final word. Local people in northern areas are generally good but overtly protective of their own culture and have some unrestrained economic interests which usually lead to exploitation of the tourists if they are not accompanied by a tour operator. Has government made any effort to make local culture inclusive or tourist-friendly? In my opinion, it is ultimately the responsibility of the government (carried out through district administration) to protect both the locals and the tourists, he concluded.

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