Recently, PTI Chairman Imran Khan posted on the social media pictures from his trip to Kumrat and Palas in Kohistan following which there has been a surge in domestic tourism in these areas. This is proof that our tourism sector holds a lot of unutilized potential.
The tourism sector has never been treated as a priority subject by successive governments. Consequently, the share of travel and tourism in GDP is only around 2.8 per cent. In many countries this share is as high 30pc with almost similar opportunities for attracting tourists, such as Egypt.
How bad the tourism situation in our country is can be gauged from the fact that in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2017 of the World Economic Forum, Pakistan was ranked at 124 out of 136 countries covered. The worst category in the ranking scale was due to visa requirement where its position was 135 out of 136 countries. In terms of prioritisation of travel and tourism the country ranked at 132 among the 136 countries surveyed in the report. Similarly, the effectiveness of marketing and branding to attract tourists got the ranking of 125 out of 136. According to the report, the quality of tourism infrastructure was ranked at 123, while hotel rooms got ranking of 129. There are a total of 36 world heritage cultural sites in Pakistan while attractiveness of natural assets scored 127.
According to UNESCO, tourism presents both opportunities and challenges. With more than 1.2 billion people travelling across borders each year, World Heritage sites, Biosphere Reserves and Global Geoparks around the world are attracting a growing number of visitors. This is creating significant opportunities for local economic development, investment, and revenue for conservation. It is also enabling us to educate more people about our cultural and natural heritage, and the need to protect it for future generations. Tourism is also being used as a tool for creativity and innovation, to support intangible cultural heritage and the creative industries.
An increasing number of people are visiting many destinations and World Heritage sites around the world each year. The large volume of people visiting during peak seasons is placing increased strain on management systems, infrastructure and local communities. Sites are increasingly under pressure to strike a balance between managing visitor numbers and protecting their Outstanding Universal Value. Climate change is a major challenge and the tourism industry is under increasing pressure to be more accountable and sustainable. In a larger context, tourism has a significant role to play in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and these are just a few examples of UNESCO’s contribution towards these goals.
Over the past six decades, tourism has experienced continued expansion and diversification, and it has become one of the fastest growing and most important economic sectors in the world, benefiting destinations and communities worldwide. International tourist arrivals worldwide have grown from 25 million in 1950 to nearly 1.2 billion in 2015. Similarly, international tourism revenues earned by destinations around the world have grown from 2 billion US dollars in 1950 to 1.2 trillion dollars in 2016. The sector represents an estimated 10% of the world’s GDP and 1 in 10 jobs globally. It is estimated that tourism will continue to grow at an average of 3.3% annually until 2030. This growth over the second half of the 20th century and the 21st is due to the fact that access to tourism has progressively expanded thanks to the recognition of the right to holidays in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the improved adoption of labour rights in many countries and the growing middle class worldwide.
Recognizing the importance of international tourism in fostering better understanding among peoples everywhere, in leading to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations, on 22 December, 2015, during its 70th session, the United Nations General Assembly designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development through a special resolution in which it “encourages all States, the United Nations system and all other actors to take advantage of the International Year to promote actions at all levels, including through international cooperation, and to support sustainable tourism as a means of promoting and accelerating sustainable development, especially poverty eradication.” This year, thus, provides a unique opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to sustainability and move forward to ensure the positive impact of well-managed tourism on inclusive and equitable growth, sustainable development and peace.
Like any activity, tourism has powerful effects on the economy, society and environment in generating countries and especially in the receiving countries. In addition to the socioeconomic impact of tourism, the sector, if managed sustainably, can be a factor for environmental preservation, cultural appreciation and understanding among peoples. Sustainable tourism is defined as tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities. It should, thus, make optimal use of environmental resources, respect host communities and ensure viable, long-term economic operations so that benefits are equitably distributed among all stakeholders.
In addition to the socioeconomic impact of tourism, the sector, if managed sustainably, can be a factor for environmental preservation, cultural appreciation and understanding among peoples. Sustainable tourism is a positive instrument towards the eradication of poverty, the protection of the environment and the improvement of quality of life, especially in developing countries. Well-designed and well-managed tourism can make a significant contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development —economic, social and environmental. Pakistan has tremendous potential for tourism promotion which has not yet been fully utilized. The need is to launch a coordinated drive to boost both domestic and international tourism.
The problems hindering tourism in Pakistan are mostly related to inadequate infrastructure, negative travel advisory to international tourists, boarding and lodging, poor connectivity through air and road, NoC requirement for foreigners to visit northern areas including AJK, trust deficit in public and private sector, poor tour operators and no skilful workers in the industry.
There is no organised marketing strategy. At the federal level there is no department to coordinate with provinces in promoting tourism at international level. It can be entrusted to the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan. There are few models which can be replicated like Malaysian Tourism and Exports Development Board and the Dubai Commerce and Tourism Marketing Board. These two boards are responsible for marketing tangible products and tourism services.
In the eight years following tourism’s devolution to the provinces, the sector continues to stagnate. The failure ranges from evolving a provincial tourism policy to inadequate infrastructure to attract domestic and international tourists. KPK and Balochistan have taken some tentative steps to promote tourism. But there is no dedicated provincial tourism policy in Punjab and Sindh, while in Gilgit Baltistan the subject is still under the purview of the federal government. To reap the benefit of tourism, both the federal government and provinces should set up a coordination board to develop cohesive policies and adopt the best tourism promotion practices that have proved effective internationally.