PUNJAB PUNCH: Tourism in naya Pakistan


LAHORE: ‘Is Pakistan safe for tourism’—such questions pop up every time one Googles tourism in Pakistan.  This is distressing because the Trip Advisor also marks this country unsafe for tourists, and I wonder why is that so. Media, international and national, is partly to blame.

Every time the Western media talks about Pakistan, it does not show the optimistic side of Pakistan.

Now the question arises:  what they did the government do to change this mindset after coming to power.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government touted its huge plan of promoting tourism at the start, but in last one year, I did not see any positive change in the image of Pakistan in terms of tourism.

The government really needs a marketing strategy to change the image of Pakistan internationally and nationally.

I don’t see any encouraging marketing of Pakistan’s tourism and heritage on the social and electronic or print media by the government; neither the government has any plans for the tourism in Pakistan. It’s just empty claims, and no on groundwork.

Pakistan has immense tourism potential which it needs to cash in on. Only in Punjab, there are locations which can generate money for the national exchequer, but for that, the government needs to promote natural, cultural and religious tourism and empower the tourism institutions.

Now what has happened in PTI government is that this year Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) closed six of its resorts: motels in Taxila, Chattar Plain, Gilgit-Baltistan’s Astak, Khuzdar and restaurants in Chakdara and Daman-i-Koh.

Shutting down these places goes against the pro-tourism policies of the government. Though the government claims that these sites were facing losses, but was closing them down the only solution?

Instead of empowering the federal and provincial tourism corporations, the government formed a twenty-five-member National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) whose chairman is PM’s aide Sayed Zulfikar Bukhari.

In my opinion, this will be another failed decision. What was the need of this board and that most of the members of this board who are so-called heritage and tourism experts are not even living in Pakistan?

I don’t think people sitting outside Pakistan would be able to think better for tourism in Pakistan rather than the ones living in the country.

During a recent visit to Kalar Kahar, I stayed at the TDCP resort and it was surprisingly no less than a five-star hotel.  The service was exceptional and the design and ambience of the lake facing resort were out of this world.

I thought that the place was made during the previous government’s regime but on the other hand, it is evident that brains and experts working at TDCP have ideas to execute. Why is the government not empowering these people on efforts they are making in the field of tourism and is instead busy obliging people by forming unnecessary boards.

Kalar Kahar has become a famous tourist spot in just a few years with Khabeki Lake, Soon valley, and Kalar Kahar Lake attracting scores of people. The place is thronged by thousands of tourists and I am a witness to it. These tourists’ spots are well maintained but there are loopholes which can be easily managed.

There should be a dedicated solid waste management team on the site because of the litter and fines of at least Rs1000 should be imposed on those who litter. WAPDA should be working to provide total voltages of electricity and TDCP should arrange a backup power supply system at the resort during monsoon and summer. Parking companies should be involved because vehicle parking is a problem at these places.

All these are issues are easily manageable and the government of Punjab should support TDCP whose staff ‘s management and competency are impressive given that they are facing these issues.

Similarly, I visited the valley of Swat and found that the places are well preserved there. I happened to visit the White Palace at Murghazar which is now being run privately and I think that it is a good model to preserve heritage.

In Bahrain, Kalam and Mingora I saw people littering at tourist spots and throwing garbage in the river without a second thought. Again, there should be a heavy fine on littering so, that it is a lesson for all.

Now, coming back to my point – is Pakistan safe for tourists? Yes, I would like to affirm the fact that Pakistan is very safe for all tourists from Sindh up to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Pakistanis are hospitable people. There is a misconception that people in KP are rigid but the truth is that they are most generous and humble. Similarly, in Punjab hospitality is at its peak and cannot be challenged by anyone in the rest of the country.

Now, what does the government need to do? Instead of constituting useless boards and involving people who don’t know anything about tourism, its issues and the heritage of Pakistan, the government should empower existing institutions at the provincial and federal level. Private tour operators and the hospitality industry should be given much-needed training and financial assistance should be provided to improve this industry.

It is high time that the government gets out of forced dependency on so-called heritage and tourism experts and get on to discussions with the ones actually working in this industry.

Lastly, until the government does not invest in the international image building of Pakistan through media, things will not change. If it wants an influx of foreign tourists, then its media image is to be changed rather than forming boards like the National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB). It should assign tasks to all tourism institutes and give them deadlines but with funds. The country needs to be turned into a brand.

And lastly, the government should recall that ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’.