News Desk |
In a bid to attract tourists to climb the unclimbed peaks, experience the untouched coastlines and pay homage to religious and historic heritage, Pakistan has proposed the idea of introducing a single-tourist visa for all the member states of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (Carec) Programme.
The prime minister’s Adviser on Institutional and Governance Reforms Dr Ishrat Husain has floated the idea to interlink multi-country recreational and religious sites across 11 member states – Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – saying all the states have different interests but they also share several attractions that should be linked together.
He was sharing his views at the Carec Forum on Sustainable Tourism Development before the 52nd annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at the tourist hotspot of Fiji.
While speaking ahead of ADB meeting, Dr Husain on Wednesday suggested the member states to have a unified marketing strategy for efficient and cost-effective development and promotion of interlinked tourist attractions and facilities in the bloc.
May 1-5 annual meeting of the ADB board of governors’ marks the first time a Pacific developing member country is hosting the event. This year’s theme of the event is ‘prosperity through unity’. Dr Husain said that the global tourism trends were changing from single country tourism to a multi-country hopping tourism, with common goals and cost-effective approaches, the media reported.
The media said that Dr Husain urged the member states to think about a single visa common for tourists covering the entire Carec region for an extended period of time so that tourists do not have face immigration related hassles at different border points.
Giving an example, he said Samarkand, Bukhara, Kandahar, Kabul, and Lahore shared religious and mountainous linkages which need to be promoted as a package to leverage each other’s strengths and advantages. He added that there should be common private sector tour operators who overcome language barriers with common Carec interpreters to ensure hassle free and efficient tourism industry.
In his address, he said, Prime Minister Imran Khan had set up a National Tourism Coordination Board that he himself leading, adding that tourism was the top priority of the new government.
Highlighting tourism sector’s great potential and its socio-economic impact, he said, Pakistan had recently introduced a new visa regime under which group tourism visa were available to 56 countries. Under the visa policy revamp, he said, Pakistan now allowed citizens of 155 countries on arrival visa while investors from many others are offered e-visa facility.
Pakistan’s Tourism Landscape
Dr Husain said Pakistan possessed unclimbed peaks, 1,000 kilometres of untouched coastline, homage places like Nankana Sahib and Panja Sahib besides historic cultural heritage involving Mughals and others.
While elaborating that Pakistan’s tourism landscape was changing with improvement in security situation, he was reported saying that the number of tourists to Pakistan had gone to 3.2 million a year from just 600,000 six years ago.
In addition, he said, the machinery required by tourism industry had now been allowed at just 5 per cent import duty while 75 per cent tax relief was given on first year of investment in tourism. Also, import of equipment was allowed at 10 per cent custom duty and chartered flights were now available from all major airports to tourist attractions. He reiterated that the government was making a whole spectrum of integrated approach as part of economic development strategy.
World Heritage Sites in Pakistan
In 2009, it was reported, the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report ranked Pakistan as one of the top 25 per cent tourist destinations for its world heritage sites. It ranged from mangroves in the south to the 5,000-year-old cities of the Indus Valley Civilization which included Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. The main destinations of choice for tourists to Pakistan are northern area, Swat, Naran Kaghan, Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi, and twin cities – Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
In 2016, according to a newspaper report, foreign tourists visiting Pakistan stood at 965,498. Pakistan’s tourism industry attracted an estimated of 1.1 million foreign tourists annually in 2011 and 966,000 in 2012 contributing $351 million and $369 million, respectively.
Before declining to 565,212 in 2013 which contributed only $298 million, in 2014, Pakistan received 530,000 foreign tourists contributing $308 million. By comparison, the report added, Pakistan’s domestic tourism industry is estimated at 50 million tourists who travel in the country on short trips usually between May to August. The largest tourism inflow in 2010 was from United Kingdom, followed by United States, India and China.
Punjab Governor to Promote ‘Sufi Tourism’
On April 24, while elaborating his new assignment, Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar said that the Prime Minister Imran Khan has tasked him to promote ‘religious tourism’, adding it was one of the biggest businesses in the world.
Being the head of religious tourism and heritage, he said, he would promote “Sufi tourism” and his target was to bring in two million Sufi tourists from around the world. He said he would encourage Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Sufi and Christian tourists to come visit sites in Pakistan hoping that it would roughly add $5 billion to the economy.