Destination Pakistan - The Tourism Potential

Faizan Usmani

It's really a curse to suffer from acute poverty for such countries including Pakistan which are naturally gifted with hearth ravishing beauty, exotic landscapes, lush-green surroundings, dazzling deep bluish oceans, vast deserts and desolate tracks, and sky-touching hills and mountains wrapped with sandy sheets, snowy covers and milky glaciers.
Our beloved country offers a wide range of geographic attractions, historical places, highly-enriched culture, regional traditions, distinctive values, lite and luscious cuisine and exceptionally hospitable people. These all stand for a prosperous land where there is even no slight conception of any sort of poverty or deficiency in its entire social and economic life. Ours is the country which also comes under the category of aforementioned territories but due to a whole host of already defined and undefined reasons, our tourism sector is still in its infancy stage and a result-oriented strategy to boom the very sector is all missing at the moment.
The targeted growth and desired development of tourism sector is mostly measured through various generalized indicators e.g. increasing number of incoming international airlines at local airports, total numbers of visit visas issued by a country's embassy, growing ratio of repeated international arrivals particularly from the well-off countries, total tourism expenditures by the visitors, length of their stay, bed occupancy, and notable circulation of foreign currencies in the local market as well as overall employment created through such activities. Thus, the impact of overall tourism activities in a particular land may be easily gauged by knowing its exact contribution to GNP (Gross National Product). But despite knowing all of these, a very little has been done in order to know the actual impact of tourism on the poor and such generalized indicators, as shown above, are not that much sufficient in determining the difference made by tourism sector in the real life led by the poor people of urban, rural and marginalized areas of that particular land.
In Kenya, for example, community tourism development was widely promoted by all stakeholders so as to reduce poverty ratio in the particular areas wherein tourism remains the mainstay as an employment sources for poor Kenyan localities. Though, community tourism development appeared as quite positive approach to produce the desired outcomes in form of less poverty and more employment opportunities to the local people; still it has numerous concerns to resolve in order to make the whole process flawless and more effective
Any measures taken in any business sector without knowing the real facts and figures always go in vain. What we desperately need this time is the most accurate flawless data regarding all tourism related activities in Pakistan, which can support desired tourism development to a greater level in the long run.
behind. And whatever we receive in the form of acquired data is generally a clutter composed of disfigured facts and self-generated statistics crafted according to the willingness of the concerned authorities. In such a bleak scenario, a comprehensive research program should be urgently conducted by any third-party research body in order to acquire both high quality and quantifiable data on the real inflow of both local and foreign tourists all over the land, exact duration of their stay in the country including total sites visited etc.
To date, the role of private sector in promotion of tourism activities in Pakistan has not been accurately measured yet and whatever offered by private sectors in tourism growth remains unacknowledged by and large. Therefore, we also need independently conducted studies to measure and estimate total investment made by the private sector in tourism industry of Pakistan. By this way, our tourism ministries will be able to devise effective planning and policies which could be of so much use to entice rest of the private sector towards playing their due part in promotion of tourism activities in the country by investing maximum within a reasonably short period of time.
A time-bound but totally result-oriented tourism support program can lead us towards gradual promotion of tourism and tourism related commercial, non-commercial and cultural activities by following well-integrated long-term plans which systematically include both federal and provincial ministries from all provinces, not to exclude local district governments as well.
Other than locating sizeable budget for the desired tourism growth, it also requires lots of creative thinking to utilise available means and resources and this can be effectively achieved if both government and private organisations are ready to play their role. In case of limitation of available funds, identification of key areas can be still beneficial and additional resources for revenue generation could be explored later on.  
Having a wide scope of tourism, Pakistan has not been able to utilise its potential to the maximum extent. For example, PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation) has established 3 restaurants and 27 motels all over the country in order to entice foreign tourists and visitors but due to lack of effective marketing and promotions of these exclusive facilities, foreign visitors are still reluctant to visit and discover this natural tourist paradise.
Moreover, private sector has not been yet involved in marketing Pakistan all over the world as a perfect tourists' destination, and all initiatives for much-needed marketing and promotion of Pak land are just taken by government-run departments. This automatically paves the way for a repetitive marketing and promotional campaign run annually just for the sake of showing on papers that something was really done to promote tourism in Pakistan.
Especially after 9/11, we no more live in the same world as things have been quite changed for Pakistan and without putting additional efforts, it will be not more than a pipe dream to attract foreign visitors towards Pakistan. Beyond image building of this country, we require concrete and collective efforts made by both government and private sectors for the very revival of diminishing tourism in Pakistan.
We can never expect substantial tourism growth in our country without turning our airports into marketing vehicles so as to market the whole country. Airports are greatly utilized as strategic marketing weapons to earn foreign exchange but without due commercialisation, these airports receive minimum visitors and international passengers in the end.
For example, the Government of Dubai makes the most of 'Dubai Duty-Free Shopping Mall' as a marketing vehicle in order to market their whole region and passengers, from all over the world, prefer to travel on aeroplanes via Dubai because it offers them an opportunity to so visit Dubai Shopping Mall. Karachi Airport has got the same potential but unfortunately this is not yet commercially utilized.
Airports are taken as showrooms of any country chiefly managed and run by the private sector. But in our case, airports have been downgraded into unexplored marketing weapons due to lack of marketing and commercialisation. Both Karachi and Lahore Airports should be effectively marketed at international level as a showroom for Pakistan for other international airlines.
As a matter of fact, there is always a difference between running a military airbase and a civilian airport of an international level. Unfortunately, this thing has not been realized in Pakistan. All over the world, civilian airports are exclusively run by the private sector but here in our country, civilian airports are all controlled by Ministry of Defence itself.
Running of purely commercialised centres e.g. hotels, restaurants, and in-flight kitchens etc. are entirely commercial pursuits and should be ideally run by the private sector. In many parts of the world, their heavily-visited airports are handled by private companies. For example, international airports like Dublin Airport, Cork, Hamburg, Shannon, and Birmingham Airports are handled by the private sector and have become huge success.
Though we have erected gigantic airports in our land but these colossal structures remain empty and deserted because a majority of European and American airlines are not willing to come to our airports. The sole reason behind this tragedy lies in the fact that our airports are not passenger friendly, especially for the international passengers and visitors. In addition to that, fuelling, landing and parking charges are very higher at our airports and catering services are also not up to the desired international standards. Though we are known as a very hospitable nation across the world, it's really a matter of wonder that visitors are no more willing to visit our land. More than a customary ministry of tourism, we actually need true specialists from this field, who have matchless experience, in-depth knowledge as well as scores of workable creative ideas to revive dying tourism sector in Pakistan.
Poverty reduction through tourism has been no more than a self-delusion and a pipedream for such nations and territories like Pakistan who, despite knowing the significance of poverty reduction initiatives, desperately lack a befitting infrastructure, dependable law and order situation as well as highly convenient commercial environment to offer to global visitors coming or willing to come from all parts of the world exclusively to such particular lands.
Tourism in Pakistan has itself become a poorest of the poor enjoying below than hand-to-mouth existence at the moment. Promoting local tourism can somehow strengthen the sickening tourism sector but no efforts are being made in this regard. It's the local tourism that also needs to be supported in such a gloomy period of our national history.
The role of government in promoting tourism industry to bringing down the mounting ratio of poverty has been quoted in all studies as being most vital and primary in the entire cause but still a miscalculated tourism strategy can also produce actual results otherwise.
Thus, state interventions, positively supplemented by a number of ancillary factors, are taken as a catalyst to multiply the pace of ongoing process leading towards economic development, employment, and poverty reduction accordingly.
If exploited meticulously and strategically, tourism entails a host of bright features for any depressed economy like ours by showering endless economic and financial fruits not only in any particular season but all throughout the year.