Kiran Afzal |
Globally, travel and tourism make up the largest service industry and accounts for more than 10.4 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) report ‘Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2018 – Pakistan’, the sector is worth US$7.6 trillion and employs 313 million people worldwide, which means that one in every ten jobs is directly linked to tourism. It is an effective tool to drive infrastructure development, inform urban planning, increase female labour force participation and promote artisans and intangible culture.
As a service industry, tourism is labour intensive and is traditionally made of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Hence, by its very nature, the sector is able to contribute meaningfully to at least three U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); (1) Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all; (2) Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and protection patterns; and (3) Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. In addition, tourism cultivates collaboration between firms, public sector and local communities while building peace and encouraging cross-border travel.
The WB, in partnership with the provincial government of KP, has mobilized technical expertise and resources to support KP’s exciting vision for tourism development.
To unlock the potential of this industry, the policymakers in several countries are supporting regulatory reforms to develop tourism and associated value chains, including food and beverage, construction and transport. Some countries are benefitting already. For instance, the Rwandan government’s focus on sustainable tourism development contributed to post-conflict recovery through the creation of inclusive jobs and active community support. Another example is Sri Lanka where the tourism industry has contributed significantly towards sustained peacebuilding. It is now time for Pakistan to also use the country’s unique landscape and cultural heritage by transforming these assets into engines of job creation, image building and economic prosperity.
With the evolution of technology, new possibilities are emerging for both travellers and service providers in public and private domain. Online bookings for travel and lodging, purchase of electronic tickets for events and festivals, and automation of public sector data on tourist traffic and revenues generated through licensing are game changers. Globally, these platforms and tools are shaping up the tourist choices and features of tourism products, and also promoting the increasing adoption of international quality standards by the travel and tourism industry.
At the same time, digital technology is an enabler for better destination planning, asset mapping and valuation, and allocation of resources within the public sector. The direct contributions of travel and tourism in Pakistan amount to 2.9 percent of GDP. The industry supports 1.5 million jobs across the country, which is far less than the sector’s potential.
It is heartening to see that tourism promotion and development is being prioritized by the Government of Pakistan and a special task force has been constituted by the Prime Minister to identify key reform areas and actionable items that could be implemented at the national and provincial levels to unlock the opportunities offered by travel and tourism industry. The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has an early bird advantage with a provincial Tourism Policy and a Cultural Policy, coupled with intense marketing campaigns to entice especially the adventurous and faith-based tourists.
It is an effective tool to drive infrastructure development, inform urban planning, increase female labour force participation and promote artisans and intangible culture.
The number of domestic tourists has seen an impressive growth since the year 2015 and places such as Galiyat, Chitral, Swat and Kaghan have gained tremendous popularity amongst various tourist segments. In addition, new sites including Kumrat (District Dir) are also opening up gradually for those who prefer to remain off the beaten track. A recent survey completed by the Government of KP and funded by the World Bank (WB) administered Multi-Donor Trust Fund, highlights both opportunities and challenges for the tourism sector. The survey sample comprised 1,849 tourism enterprises (hotels, restaurants, shops and transporters), 2,744 tourists and 2,728 households in four tourist destinations (Kalam, Kumrat, Naran and Galiyat area) within KP.
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The survey findings reveal that; (i) the sector provides direct jobs to 8,665 individuals; (ii) around 4.5 million tourists visit these four sites annually; and (iii) tourists are contributing more than US$650 million to the local economy annually. In addition to these four, several other destinations across the province such as Kalash Valleys (Chitral), Thandiyani (Abbottabad), Malam Jabba (Swat) and Gor Gathri (Peshawar) are also experiencing annual growth in the number of visitors.
The improvement in road connections between cities and few established destinations has provided a new life to travel and tourism industry, and to local enterprises as the tourists are able to access these sites during most parts of the year, especially between April and November. Few destinations such as Malam Jabba (Swat) and Galiyat are also open for business during the winter season between December and March with the exception of those days when these areas receive heavy snowfall. The trends are assuring for the local firms and provincial authorities, but the issues are mounting as well.
The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has an early bird advantage with a provincial Tourism Policy and a Cultural Policy, coupled with intense marketing campaigns to entice especially the adventurous and faith-based tourists.
The local authorities need resources and training to both prevent and address the land and water pollution caused due to solid waste, plastics, effluents and noise levels during peak tourist seasons. Most well-connected sites do not have the capacity to hold vehicles and tourists beyond a certain number due to limited parking spaces and lodging options. Therefore, a consensus is building amongst the stakeholders that specific actions are required to help the industry grow and contribute towards economic development. Few of these suggested actions are listed below:
- Concrete measures are required to facilitate the international tourists, for example, implementation of a more flexible visa policy (electronic visas for selective nationalities initially, similar to what Sri Lanka, Turkey and Egypt are doing) and increased frequency of flights to the destinations in country’s North;
- Both existing and emerging tourist sites require destination management which can help the public-sector service providers address the issues mentioned above while preserving the tourism assets and ecosystem. This is already work in process and requires diligent planning to ensure that the elements of environmental sustainability, inclusiveness and protection of local communities and revenue mobilization are factored in;
- The role of local government bodies is instrumental in the overall site planning and management, otherwise, both intangible and monetary benefits generated by tourism cannot be retained within the communities and local economy;
- It is important to reorient the curriculum of national and provincial universities so that the young men and women are well equipped with knowledge and skills in archaeology, hospitality, aviation, and food and beverage industry. This will enhance the opportunities for youth to land inclusive jobs or opt for entrepreneurship, thereby creating new jobs;
- The industry should be encouraged to make an all-out effort to offer tourism products and services for women travellers and more importantly, introduce a conducive working environment so that more qualified women opt to work in this sector.
There is a serious effort by the provincial authorities to promote and preserve the cultural heritage and unique landscape of KP. In collaboration with the private sector and national platforms, the government of KP will also open up new and unexplored sites over next five years. The WB, in partnership with the provincial government of KP, has mobilized technical expertise and resources to support KP’s exciting vision for tourism development. Both will continue working jointly to ensure that tourism is a safe and convenient experience for all segments of the international and domestic tourists, especially women, elderly and disabled.
Kiran Afzal is a senior Private Sector specialist with the Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global practice of the World Bank Group. She has almost 15 years of experience in the development sector and has worked on activities that include MSME financing, value chains development in tourism sector, public private partnership and financial markets integrity. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.