A Case for Tourism in Pakistan
There is a lot of ongoing debate about how to make Pakistan an attractive place for tourism. There are famous vloggers who traveled to Pakistan recently and made a big case for promoting tourism in Pakistan on YouTube and various social media platforms, who were sponsored by the State. But the question remains what is needed to make Pakistan a good travel destination and attract foreign tourists and dollars? According to Mindanao Times, here are the latest update on tourist arrival numbers in ASEAN countries in 2019 (pre-covid-19):
1. Thailand – 39,797,406 39.80 million
2. Malaysia – 20.1 million
3. Vietnam -18 million
4. Singapore -15.9 million
5. Indonesia -13.62 million
6. Philippines -8 million
7. Cambodia – 6.7 million
8. Myanmar -4.3 million
9. Lao PDR -3.4 million
10. Brunei Darussalam -213 thousand
What makes these ASEAN countries heaven for foreign tourists? One is the nature which is God-given, such as beautiful heavenly islands, beaches, and tropical weather. But besides this, what makes them so attractive to foreign tourists? What are the basic requirements and needs of an international traveler? There are different categories of travelers from business travelers to high-end people to backpackers. But what are the basic criteria that a foreigner checks before visiting a place?
The most fundamental questions are as follows:
Ease of getting visa
Ease of getting a visa (whether there is an e-visa on arrival available?) Safety and security (whether they can travel the entire country freely without any issues) This is an important element as many international travelers are single females, so does the country have an environment where a woman can travel freely without any issues at any time of the day?
Similarly, they can travel without any worry about their luggage and personal accessories? Whether there are scammers and pickpockets in certain areas? These are important basic questions that are always asked by any foreigner in online forums before embarking upon a journey to any country. Another question is whether there are good places for leisure and entertainment available in a particular country? Turkey, Dubai, and Malaysia are examples of countries with a majority Muslim population, yet in order to attract foreigners and tourists, they have places where foreigners can visit all places of entertainment. We cannot deny the fact that most international tourists love the nightlife, where live music in cafes, events such as stand-up comedies in the neighborhood, and aesthetically crafted food streets with a variety of international cuisines, are available.
Furthermore, one of the major important factors is the availability of accommodation across the spectrum, including cheap hostels (with all basic facilities including pool and free Wi-Fi), mid-range 3-star hotels to 5-star hotels for high-end tourists. If someone has ever visited just a few of the above-mentioned countries, one can easily discern how much we are lacking in this aspect. A quick check on Booking.com and Trip Advisor will reveal the true face of our standing in terms of hotel accommodation. The entire infrastructure related to hoteling needs a revamp in coordination with our tourism authorities and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Beginning from a quality yet cheap home-based hostels and accommodation which are available on online global platforms will be a good starting point.
Similarly, the availability of good, reasonably priced transportation, including online rental cars, cycles, bikes, and dirt bikes for leisure in deserts, jet-skis, and bikes for water-sports in different tourist spots with all safety protocols are highly needed. Boat trips with trained staff and life jackets should also be available in all places of water sports/trips.
Another important factor is the overall cleanliness and the quality of air and climate in a particular country. Many foreigners usually visit natural places to enjoy the clean air and serenity of nature. If a natural resort or scenic place is full of plastic and garbage without any proper garbage collecting mechanisms, then such unhygienic news/pictures/videos spread like fire in online spaces and other people usually avoid visiting such places. Especially now when most of the world has shifted from plastic waste, if such people visit a country with beautiful hilly areas filled with plastic waste, then it can have huge negative repercussions on tourism. This is a crucial factor that can increase or decrease tourism significantly.
Although many foreigners respect local culture and values. There are still others who love to wear the dress and attire they prefer. The ASEAN countries and other Muslim majority countries mentioned above are quite open when it comes to personal choices such as dress code. You can see an abaya or scarf-laden Muslim lady in a mall in Dubai, Turkey, or Malaysia along with foreigners who are wearing their own dress, nobody is staring or watching them with bemusement. However, in many parts of the country, such freedoms would be looked down upon, and foreigners usually remember such awkward experiences where locals are starting/glaring at them just because of their personal dress choices. These are the values that we need to learn from these brotherly Muslim countries that have become major tourist hot spots. We have to reach a level of tolerance where foreigners are welcome and not made uncomfortable while they visit our country.
Having mentioned all these factors, including the ease of obtaining visas, it is also reiterated that the security of the country should always be the first priority. Pakistan is in the center of a region that has witnessed a lot of disturbances should also take into consideration the security questions before making all these structural changes in the tourism sector. There are many countries that have some security challenges, including our brotherly Turkey from which we can learn. Learning from the experiences of the law enforcement agencies of Turkey, Dubai, and Malaysia can also give us insights into how to filter the negative influx of any person who may cause disturbance in the country. The rest, the case of the betterment of the Tourism Sector should proceed forward as it’s a major source of the influx of dollars and economic activity in the country. Checking the figures of dollars earned in tourism of the countries mentioned above in a single year can clearly confirm how much livelihoods and incomes are generated in a country due to good tourism policies.
Last year, the Government of Pakistan took a great leap forward when an e-visa facility was announced for more than 191 countries in addition to on-arrival visas for 50 countries. Foreigners who are looking for quick visits during their vacations appreciate and admire such steps and visit usually those countries where visa processes are hassle-free. Similarly, we need to add more countries to our visa-abolition list, it will increase the ranking of our passport and also make us a major destination for travel.
The Covid-19 has detrimental effects upon people of all hues and cries. We need to catch the bus on the tourism trail and make Pakistan a tourist hub through our friendly policies and good citizen behavior. It will lead to a huge investment influx and will act as a catalyst in uplifting the downtrodden masses of the country.
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