Pakistan seems to be taking off as a destination point for tourists from around the world. In 2015 just over 560,000 tourists visited the country. Last year, this number stood at 1.9 million. A host of articles, blogs and other global input seems to be bolstering the trend. All this is certainly good news for all of us, and there can be no doubt that Pakistan has a great deal to offer visitors in terms of history, culture, natural beauty and hospitality. We have recently seen a lot of Western bloggers from around the world actively promoting Pakistan, and the government of Pakistan is also keen on projecting a positive image of the country. We should however remember that many Westerners, especially when they travel to Pakistan with official sponsorship, are not able to understand the complexities of travel in Pakistan. This aspect has been articulated by many Pakistanis over the years but has now finally gotten some traction after an American traveller and blogger published a video explaining this issue. In the first place, it is not always safe for all travellers, especially women, people who are not white and others who are travelling without escort or assistance. Bureaucratic holdups over the grant of NOCs are still common with a lack of clarity over when and for what areas these are required. The process of giving out visas under the new system announced by the government is also still to be streamlined. With a set of cultural issues also in place, and Western behaviours not always acceptable within the country, honest reviews are essential.
It is especially important that, rather than depending mainly on images of the country put forward by Western travellers who have often received official security protocol, the opinion of local people be heard. Many Pakistanis have been involved in travelling across their country and photographing its beauty even during the years when militant violence was at its height. Their efforts played a huge role in making the world aware of Pakistan’s tourism potential. They are also the people who best understand ground realities in terms of accommodation, travel safety and entertainment available to visitors. Views which do not paint Pakistan only in shimmering colours need to be heard as well. This will make it more possible for visitors to know what to expect, recognise the need to ensure their own safety, follow cultural norms and thereby make their visits to Pakistan happy occasions rather than ones that fall short of the experience they were hoping for.