Tourism in Pakistan
Generally, tourism has been a human luxury since the very beginning. The term ‘tourism’ hints at public activities of being outside their usual environment for leisure, business and other purposes. It is also considered synonymous with “holiday activity” as per the definition provided by the World Tourism Organization.
The United Nations defines tourism in respect of time period, i.e. staying out for more than 24 hours and less than 6 months falls in the domain of tourism. There are various forms of tourism, e.g. domestic, inbound and outbound tourism. Domestic tourism involves the residents of a country who travel within the geographical boundaries of their state. Inbound tourism is an act of travelling to a country other than one’s own for the purpose of tourism. Outbound tourism is an amalgamation of tourist activities of residents of a country outside their country.
Although it was initially deemed as a way of the rich and the pilgrims, tourism today is a major sector of global economy as it contributes immensely to respective economies of many countries.
To understand tourism, it is very natural to have a glance over the history of it.
Historically, people have travelled for multiple reasons — pleasure and prayer/worship top the list. Travelling for pleasure can be traced back to 1500BC in Egypt. Traditions of pilgrimage in Christianity, Buddhism and Islam added to the concept of tourism. The origin of modern-day tourism can be traced back to the 17th century when young nobles would plan grand tours – a traditional trip around Europe which was, at that time, considered a status symbol. With the advent of Industrial Revolution, leisure travel came to the fore. Thomas Cook’s (often called the Father of Modern Tourism) idea of offering excursions became a key in changing the face of tourism. With abundance of resources, tourism was adopted by all and sundry. And today, almost all countries of the globe have some popular sites and many citizens travelling there.
Why Pakistan is a preferred destination
There is no denying the fact that Pakistan, ethnically and geographically, is a diverse country. It has a number of historical and cultural heritage sites. A huge number of picturesque spots – 800 plus sites – in Pakistan have potential to transform the country into a tourism hub. It is a naturally diverse country, has all the four seasons, possesses a marvellous topography and offers fine food texture. Its four provinces and other areas have unique features; Punjab is dubbed as the land of saints and has multiple places to be visited, Sindh is the land of ancient civilization with Mohenjo-Daro at its core. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is blessed with rich Pashtun culture and multiple places to be explored. Folk rituals of Chitral attract many tourists.
Pakistan has six properties inscribed on the World Heritage List – Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodaro (1980), Buddhist Ruins of Takht-i-Bahi and Neighbouring City Remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol (1980), Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore (1981), Historical Monuments at Makli, Thatta (1981), Rohtas Fort (1997) and Taxila (1980). The country’s geography is a mix of deserts, islands, plains, forests and lakes. Its northern areas are among the most attractive tourist sites around the world. Southern areas of the country are unique in their own way, with Ziarat and Gwadar as best sites. Coast of Sindh, Makli Necropolis, Thar Desert and Mohenjo-Daro are sites to be visited in Sindh. Punjab has Cholistan Desert, Monroe Island, Badshahi Mosque, Lahore Fort and Hiran Minar. Hunza Valley, Swat Valley, Fairy Meadows, Chitral and Kalash, Neelum valley, Arang Khel, Attabad Lake, Babusar Top, K-2, and Khunjerab Pass are among top places the tourists are most attracted to.
Religious tourism in Pakistan
Religious tourism is an integral part of religion. Pakistan has various religious sites that are sacred to, and are visited by, pilgrims especially from Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic communities. Christians travelling to Jerusalem and Muslims travelling to Makkah are prime examples of religious tourism.
No doubt, religious tourism is a thriving industry but still it remains an unexplored avenue in Pakistan. Pakistan’s Gandhara region has been a special place for Buddhists. Swat, Taxila and Mardan attract Buddhists more. Around 1300 years ago, a Korean monk Hyecho travelled to this place. Recently, during excavations near Bhamala Stupa in Haripur district, a 48-foot long Buddha statue was unearthed – it has been called world’s oldest sleeping Buddha statue. Takht Bahi in KP and various sites in northern Punjab have potential to attract Buddhists, especially those from Korea, China and Japan.
Alongside this, Pakistan holds an important position for Sikhs. Historically, Punjab was the only center of the Sikh empire. Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak, is considered among the holiest places of Sikhism. Kartarpur, where a corridor was opened in 2019, is another holy place for Sikhs as Baba Guru Nanak spent last years of his life here. So, Sikhs extremely revere both these places, and it gives Pakistan a great opportunity to promote tourism here also. Sufi shrines, Buddhist monasteries, Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples are of unique attraction for people of various religions. If the people belonging in these religions are facilitated, they can add an impetus to the growth of tourism industry in Pakistan, thus providing a great opportunity to earn billions of dollars.
What international agencies say about Pakistan?
Various agencies, councils and organizations have rated Pakistan among the best tourist destinations. Pakistan becomes relevant in tourism because of cultural sites and religious places. World Tourism and Trade Council has ranked Pakistan among top places for tourism because of diverse geography and climate. Forbes magazine says Pakistan is “Top Coolest Site” in the world in regard with tourism. Pakistan has been given a top position in “Conde Nest Travel List”. The country has also been ranked high in the list of adventurous destinations by British Backpacker’s Society (BBS). All these are affidavits in the favour of Pakistan and show that the country has a huge potential to be a favoured destination for tourism.
How can economy be boosted?
Presently, economy is one of the most important factors to give a country a say in world affairs. Tourism is playing an instrumental role in boosting the economy of many a country. As Pakistan has vast potential for tourism, its economy can get a huge boost. Biggest boom in tourism occurred in 1970s and 2012 when almost one million tourists visited Pakistan, which added hugely to economy. Tourism was adding much to the economic stats of Pakistan but the 2005 earthquake alongside War on Terror disturbed the equation. And the country was left in a lurch in this domain.
Nonetheless, being among the best holiday destinations in 2020s can give a much-needed boost to the economy of Pakistan. WTTC says that around 7.6 billion dollars – 2.7% of Pakistan total GDP – was added to the country’s economy. In 2025, tourism can, potentially, add Rs 1 trillion ($6.0bn) to the national economy. This report underscores the importance of tourism for Pakistan.
What it offers?
Without any iota of doubt, tourism is an untapped reservoir of prosperity for Pakistan. It can help in direct inflow of foreign exchange and can create much-needed jobs. It can project the soft image of Pakistan to counter the militant tendencies as showcased to the world by biased Western media. Pakistan can excel in diplomacy through religious tourism. Tourism can create socio-cultural harmony in the society. It can be a handy source of poverty-alleviation and can drastically lessen unemployment – currently, 3.6 million people are employed in tourism industry. In short, tourism has a lot to offer to Pakistan.
Tourism should be promoted domestically and internationally. However, doing so requires improved security conditions – a must for its development. Highways must be built and linked to tourist destinations. Free and unrestricted movement of pilgrims must be ensured after due checking. Tourist destinations must be developed and upgraded. Public-private partnership is mandatory for it. Lastly, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia model should be adopted and tourism must be improved on modern footings. Maldives, Malaysia and many other such states can be studied and observed in this regard as they have boosted their economies with proper planning in tourism sector. In a nutshell, tourism has high potential and can build economy of Pakistan, as it has built the economy of many other countries. We as a nation must play some constructive role in prosperity and well being of tourism industry in Pakistan.
The writer is an inspector in Punjab Excise Police, and holds a degree in LLB. He can be reached at Qasimalibhatti00@gmail.com
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