For the sixth consecutive year, the growth of the travel and hospitality industry has outperformed the progress made in the global economy. This shows the industry’s resilience in the face of global geopolitical uncertainty and economic volatility.
The travel and hospitality industry continued to make a real difference in the lives of millions of people by creating jobs; reducing poverty; attracting foreign direct investment; and fostering development and tolerance.
When we talk about Pakistan using the cliched connotation of ‘from Karachi to Kashmir’, it is undoubtedly an understatement that not only downplays the beauteous charms that these tourist hotspots have but also fails to do justice to the other wonders bestowed throughout the region.
Thousands of foreigners visit Pakistan and many more want to. But there are significant hurdles in the way of these travellers apart from security issues. Getting a single-entry visa for Pakistan is a challenge in and of itself. People who visit Pakistan once always aspire to return. But obtaining a multiple-entry visa remains a more significant challenge.
Although the purpose of tourism and travel varies from person to person, most people visit other countries for leisure, entertainment, pilgrimage and health-related reasons. Our country has recently, but not entirely, recovered from terrorism. As a result, offering multiple-entry visas to foreign tourists would provide a welcome boost to tourism.
There are countless reasons why issuing multiple-entry visas is a good option despite the dark clouds of terrorism that are still hovering on Pakistan. One aspect of this debate is simply linked to the issuance of single-entry visas. Why would a country ever allow any person who can prove to be deadly on its terrain? Does the inspection criteria for a person who has applied for a single-entry visa differ from that for a person who wants a multiple-entry visa to the country? Can we imagine allowing an anti-social element on our land only once and not multiple times? If not numerous times, then why even once?
The exceedingly and intriguingly varying topography of our beautiful country attracted visitors for centuries. The snow-capped mountains in Chitral, Naran and Gilgit-Baltistan; the lush green hills of Azad Kashmir; and the rocky ranges of Sulaiman and Kihar in Balochistan have enthralled even the most intrepid explorers. The fecund plains of Punjab, gushing rivers and their tributaries; the expansive Thar, Thal, and Kharan deserts; and the serene beaches in Karachi and Gwadar showcase the best of nature’s beauty.
Historical sites like Mohenjodaro and Harappa; religious sites, including gurdwaras and temples; and our bustling metropolitan cities have provide irresistible attractions for tourists from across the globe. The ethnic diversity and historical heritage along with the geographical wonders of our country have a great deal to offer. In 2010, ‘Lonely Planet’ praised the country’s potential for tourism. As per the travel website, Pakistan has been “tourism’s ‘next big thing’ for more years than we care to remember”.
According to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 that was issued by the World Economic Forum, the direct contribution of the travel and tourism industry to Pakistan’s total GDP in 2015 was 2.8 percent. This amounts to $328.3 million and there is a strong likelihood that this figure will increase to $9.5 billion by 2025. This is Pakistan’s untapped potential which, if harnessed intelligently, can increase the number or foreign tourists who visit the country.
Like many other countries, Pakistan can strengthen its visa regime by demanding confirmed air tickets and hotel bookings. This process is far easier because itineraries can be scheduled and booked via the Internet. Local startups, such as ‘Travellia’ and ‘Travel Destination’, can now do a large part of the work and can arrange everything for travellers – from routes to stopovers, hotel arrangements and even meals. As a result, planning a trip is not entirely impossible anymore. These details would surely indicate the intentions of tourists to the satisfaction of the visa processing officials.
Every part of our country possesses its own distinct culture, language, and heritage. Pakistan is a rich amalgam of diversity. Our untapped potential is staggering. By opening our doors to more visitors, we can open our doors to thousands of jobs; millions of rupees that will be pumped into our local economies; and lifelong friendships with people from all over the world who can share stories of the hospitality they were shown in Pakistan. The positive economic impact of allowing multiple-entry visas to visitors can no longer be overlooked by policymakers.
The writer is the revenue officer and the chief of marketing sales at Hashoo Group.