Wednesday January 19, 2022

Tourism – an unpleasant dilemma

June 26, 2021

Tourism is an industry massively impacted by Covid-19. According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), global travel witnessed a -74 percent loss of international tourist arrivals. However, in its due time, it will return to normal – with numerous changes than what was previously followed.

Researchers ‘emphasize’ on the fact that a healthy operational mind requires at least two travel trips a year. Traveling is a huge industry with massive potential and, if done right, can fuel entire economies. Countries like Thailand, Maldives, China, Singapore, the UAE, Turkey are prime examples of tourism aiding in increasing the GDP in the region.

It makes sense really, looking at the way their tourism industry is set up and the policies are framed around it. The way tourism is correlated with other industries is also quite fascinating, be it airlines, hotels, amusement parks, infrastructure and development, transportation, entertainment, food and beverage etc.

Pakistan happens to be a country which is blessed with nature, resources and beauty. However, we have not been able to truly reap the benefits of it. There are countless reasons why that has been the case – law and order, lack of infrastructure, corruption hindering progress in government departments, lack of acceptance and international presence and in some unique cases, religious legal systems.

Since the last few years, we have been seeing small things that highlight that we are progressing as a nation – stuff like cycling lanes on beaches, restoration of cultural heritage sites, commercialising tourist spots like Hunza, Gilgit, Peshawar, people coming out and protesting on things that matters, influx of international influencers visiting and promoting the true beauty of Pakistan to the world. I would hand this to PM Khan. But there is still a need for a proper strategy to boost this industry and turn it into a revenue-generating sector.

First and foremost is law and order, which has undoubtedly decreased considering the last 10-15 years, but it needs to be at a point where people can walk around freely with zero to little street crime. Second is the need to develop smart infrastructure in terms of mobility inside and amongst cities – subways, train stations, smart highways and tolls etc. This means working alongside the private sector to utilise their technologies while strategizing and planning long-term sustainable options.

Third is development inside cities, suited for the needs of travelers – commercialising beaches, adventure sports and using old aircraft for sky sports, entertainment ventures and providing tax incentives for investments from foreigners and locals in this industry. This will simultaneously result in startups in the travel and tourism industry, ultimately benefiting the ecosystem of Pakistan.

Revamping existing places and converting them into commercial avenues such as Sea View in Karachi, Hawkes Bay, Sandspit to an adventure sport spot with arcades and safari nearby, salt mines as a tourist attraction etc.

We also need to work with our airline to develop policies which make sure flights traveling over our country need to have a mandatory stop at the capital or any other city, and incentivising hotels to give them free stays as done by Emirates and Etihad airlines in the past. This will also have a direct impact on promoting and exporting local delicacies from Pakistan to the world. Lastly, we could benefit from keeping aside our difference of religion from our state policies or at least tourism policies at this moment.

Moving towards adopting a few secular policies can also have a massive impact on the overall economy since it enables you to tax and regulate the unbanked economy running within the state – such as alcohol, nicotine etc.

It will still take a while before the global tourism industry returns to normal; rethinking and reanalyzing our strategies may very well result in providing Pakistan a steady source of revenue from the sector.

The writer is a freelance journalist and a communications professional.