By Anwar Kemal
RECOGNISING the potential of tourism as a means of boosting national income in a relatively short time, the government has declared 2007 as “Visit Pakistan Year”. It has also set in motion a number of useful changes, including a liberal visa policy for visitors from “tourist friendly countries” and a generous depreciation allowance of 50 per cent for new investment in tourism.
Pakistan has an attractive coastline, three of the highest and most scenic mountain ranges in the world, cities that offer a variety of interesting products for sale, river plains, colourful deserts and many interesting historical and cultural sites. Our people are traditionally friendly and hospitable to strangers. So why is Pakistan one of the least frequented and most under-appreciated tourist destinations in the world?
The reported presence in Pakistan of some of the world’s diehard terrorists may have something to do with the dearth of tourists. A reputation for religious and cultural intolerance, undeserved by the population as a whole, does not help either. The third deficiency is that Pakistan lacks the infrastructure that a modern tourism industry demands. Power failures are common, speeding buses on crowded highways are a menace to passengers, pedestrians and smaller vehicles, the railway system is old, decent accommodation is scarce and costly, and the natural environment is becoming degraded.
Not surprisingly, in 2004 only 648,000 foreigners visited Pakistan, generating revenues of $186 million, as compared to India’s 3.5 million visitors who generated receipts of $6.1 billion. In 2006, the number of visitors to Pakistan increased to 798,000 but earnings, surprisingly, remained the same. The reason for the small volume of receipts is that a large proportion of the visitors are overseas Pakistanis, not genuine tourists.
Pakistanis, who frequently travel abroad, may wonder why countries with similar cultural and religious backgrounds are able to attract so many more tourists. For example, Egypt hosted 8.6 million tourists in 2005, who spent $6.5 billion, in spite of deadly bombing attacks in the Sinai, while over 17 million tourists are expected to visit Turkey and generate $16.5 billion in 2006.
Full Article: Dawn Editorial (21st Nov 2006)