Challenges to the Tourism Industry
and the Way Forward
There are no two opinions about the fact that tourism carries a lot of advantages for Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan has rightly said that tourism offered excellent potential for boosting the country’s revenue and employment opportunities. He further quoted the example of Switzerland which is half the size of our northern areas and not more serene or beautiful than the landscape of these areas, yet it earns 80 billion US dollars from tourism annually whereas Pakistan’s total exports yield around 25 billion US dollars. Many opportunities exist which can be exploited to promote the tourism industry in Pakistan. However, there are a number of challenges that confront our tourism industry. These challenges include inadequate infrastructure, poor security situation, lack of government will and insufficient hotels and restaurants. Infrastructure development for the promotion of tourism may pose threat to the environment. It is recommended that more sites may be developed and added to the list of places of tourist significance, infrastructure be developed, more hotels and restaurants be built and tourist-friendly policies be made. Pakistan’s foreign office and embassies may be engaged in conducting awareness seminars regarding the tourist attractions in Pakistan. Tourist facilitation centres may be established in all the areas of tourist significance to help the foreign and local tourists. This treatise would throw light on the challenges confronting tourism and suggest some measures to overcome these challenges.
Challenges confronting the tourism industry in Pakistan are explained in the following paragraphs.
Lack of adequate infrastructure is the biggest hurdle in the way of promotion of tourism in Pakistan. Adequate infrastructure includes road network, railway tracks, airports, supply of electricity and gas and certain other amenities. Without proper infrastructure, tourism cannot be promoted. The same is the case in Pakistan where many tourist destinations lack infrastructure. Access to tourist destinations in hilly areas is difficult and dangerous because of land-sliding and inadequate infrastructure. Certain amenities are not available at our tourist destinations. Thus, inadequate infrastructure is a big hindrance in the way of promotion of tourism in Pakistan.
The poor security situation for the last more than one decade in Pakistan is responsible for a halt in tourist activities. Many foreign tourists were killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan which discouraged tourism here. These terrorist activities also brought a bad name to Pakistan. One such infamous incident of terrorism happened at the base camp of Nanga Parbat – the world’s 9th highest mountain situated in Gilgit-Baltistan – in June 2013 where nine foreign tourists were killed. This incident in particular, and other terrorist activities in general, discouraged tourism in Pakistan. Hence, terrorism is held responsible for the poor state of the tourism industry in Pakistan.
Lack of will of successive governments in Pakistan is also a culprit in the context of tourism. No government made sustainable efforts to promote tourism in Pakistan. There are so many steps which should have been taken by the governments to promote tourism. These steps include infrastructure development, tourist-friendly visa policies, facilitation desks for tourists, provision of better security and advertisement and projection of tourist destinations in Pakistan. Much more could be done to provide a friendly environment for the foreign tourists to come and visit our tourist destinations. Thus, lack of will on the part of successive governments remained a big hindrance in the promotion of tourism in Pakistan.
Another challenge for the tourism industry is the limited number of hotels and restaurants on or near tourist spots. Take the example of Shogran – a famous tourist spot in Pakistan – and one can count the number of accommodation facilities on one’s fingers. If we want to attract foreign tourists, we require accommodation of international standard. Any tourist destination which lacks proper accommodation facilities fails to attract tourists. Not only the number of hotels on the tourist spots is limited but also the quality of accommodation is poor. Thus, the lack of accommodation facilities of an appropriate standard is also a challenge confronting the tourism industry in Pakistan.
As we make efforts to promote tourism, we have to keep in mind that there may be a threat to the ecosystem or the environment. When infrastructure is developed, road or rail networks are constructed, hotels and restaurants are constructed, and other amenities are built, they may replace the plantation cover in the area. Thus, the plants and the green belts are likely to be replaced by buildings and roads. Only less than 4 percent of the land area of Pakistan is covered with forests whereas it is recommended by the United Nations that at least 25 percent of the total land area of any country should be covered with forests. It is interesting to note that 49 percent of the land area of Russia is covered with forests. Keeping in view these statistics, Pakistan has comparatively very less land area covered by the forests. Therefore, further removal of the plantation cover because of construction related to the tourism industry poses a big challenge.
Some challenges confronting the tourism industry have been discussed in the preceding paragraphs. Now I would suggest some measures to promote tourism in Pakistan.
It is suggested that many potential tourist spots which exist in Pakistan may be added to the list of tourist spots. There are many areas of scenic beauty in Pakistan that have not been explored by the tourists at large. Galyat is one such example. It is located between Murree and Abbottabad at a distance of around 60 kilometre from Islamabad. The Galyat tracts were first discovered by British officials in the 1840s. They developed these sites as hill resorts to escape the summer heat but later on, these tracts were neglected. Other neglected areas are Fort Munro situated near Dera Ghazi Khan, the heritage sites of Tharparkar and Bhit Khori beach. These neglected areas may become popular tourist spots if proper attention is given to them.
Infrastructure should be developed to promote tourism in Pakistan. Roads leading to the tourist spots should be constructed. The threat of land-sliding should be tackled by taking precautionary measures. Railway tracks may be built where necessary. Feasibility of air travel to certain tourist spots may be prepared and steps should be taken to provide the facility of air travel where it is convenient. The focus should be on comfortable and safe access to the tourist resorts especially situated in the hilly areas. More hotels and restaurants of international standard should be built to accommodate the choices of the foreign tourists. To cut it short, infrastructure development should be the priority of the government.
Another mandatory step for the promotion of tourism in Pakistan is that the government should make policies for the protection of the rights of the tourists. Recently, there was news on social media that the residents of Murree, a hill resort in the Rawalpindi district, misbehaved with the tourists. Then a new trend on social media started which instigated the tourists to boycott visiting Murree. That was very dangerous for the tourist industry in Pakistan. There is a dire need to make policies for the protection of the tourists’ rights. Rates of the accommodation facilities should be regulated by the government. And strict action should be taken by the government institutions including police in case of infringement of the rights of tourists. Thus, the government should make policies that ensure the protection of tourists’ rights in order to promote tourism in Pakistan.
Improving security situation is indispensable to encouraging tourism. For over a decade, terrorism played havoc with all the sectors of the economy including tourism — the losses of human lives aside. Now, the security situation has significantly improved and terrorism has been exterminated to a larger extent, thanks to the efforts of Pakistan army, police, its Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) and other Law- enforcement Agencies (LEAs). However, our security forces need to be vigilant and conducting intelligence-led operations to prevent any such untoward incidents that not only discouraged tourism in the country but also brought a bad name to the country. Law and order situation should be under control. Police should be strengthened to control street crime because even the incidents of street crime may repel foreign tourists. Thus, improving the security situation is vital for the growth of the tourism industry.
It is also suggested that an awareness campaign regarding the tourist spots in Pakistan should be launched on electronic and print media. Moreover, social media can help a lot in the promotion of tourism. The Government of Pakistan may engage its embassies in other countries of the world. These embassies may be tasked to conduct awareness seminars regarding the tourism potential in Pakistan. Documentaries and advertisements can be made and publicized to attract more tourists to Pakistan. Thus, awareness regarding the opportunities of tourism in Pakistan is helpful for the promotion of tourism here.
Last but not least, facilitation desks may be established for the guidance of tourists. This step will win the hearts of tourists. These facilitation desks should be established at a prominent place near the tourist spots. They may be asked to provide brochures regarding certain tourist spots which will be handy to provide the required information regarding the tourist place. Other functions of the facilitation desks may be to answer the queries of the tourists and help them in finding the desired accommodation. Services of these facilitation desks should be available round the clock. These facilitation desks will not only create a good image of Pakistan as a host country but will also promote tourism here.
To conclude, it can be stated that promoting tourism is in the best interest of Pakistan. There are certain hurdles in the way of the promotion of tourism in Pakistan yet these can be overcome by adopting certain measures. This article explained these challenges one by one which includes lack of infrastructure, poor security situation, lack of government will and certain environmental threats. In the end, this article suggested some measures for the promotion of tourism in Pakistan. Exploring and advertising more sites for tourism, developing infrastructure, building more world-class accommodation facilities and making policies for the guidance and comfort of the tourists will go a long way in the promotion of tourism in Pakistan. It is hoped that if these recommendations are adopted and implemented by the government, the true potential of tourism can be exploited which will bring about a revolution in improving the economy and creating business opportunities in Pakistan.