The government’s tourism policy in the backdrop of Covid-19 and the resulting economic downturn appear to be confusing and filled with contradictions. As the PTDC motels were shut and employees laid off, Pakistan’s tourism industry now can barely be described as a nestling one.
Nevertheless, from an international perspective, Pakistan’s scenic beauty and the insurmountable mountain vistas in the north are getting attention. In 2018, the British Backpacker Society ranked Pakistan as its highest-ranking travel destination and Forbes termed Pakistan “one of the coolest countries to visit”. Moreover, when the UK travel magazine recommends Pakistan as a “hot list destination”, the praise is the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, our government has ceased to build on this goodwill and momentum.
It is undeniable that the coronavirus pandemic has derailed tourism everywhere, but it is also clear that Pakistan needs to climb many mountains before it can become a preferred tourist destination. Pakistan’s image has suffered immensely at the hands of terrorism that was at its zenith in the 2000s and the murder of foreign climbers in G-B in 2013 was the last nail in the coffin. However, with militancy crushed and law and order restored, multi-dimensional efforts are still required to attract tourists internationally.
The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019 ranks Pakistan as the least competitive country in South Asia, therefore we need to rectify the loopholes in our tourism policy. We need to ease restrictions on movement, streamline the visa-processing timings, and review the tourism infrastructure which is far from being robust and may not satisfy the expectations of international travellers. These policies and approaches are analogous to putting the cart before the horse.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2020.