Pakistan as an international tourist destination is not as far fetched an idea as it may sound. Before terrorism gave us a violent reputation, Pakistan was viewed as a country with beautiful landscapes, good food and hospitable people. Mountaineering expeditions, hippies on the railways and foreigners ambling along the streets were not unheard of once upon a time. Our image abroad has taken a drastic beating since then. Terrorism had made tourism in some of the most beautiful parts of the country, all but impossible. However, recent attempts at reviving tourism give hope that the sector could again flourish. Among these is the decision by local authorities to do away with the requirement of foreign tourists obtaining an NoC in order to travel to Malakand division. This is sure to increase the tourist inflow to places like Swat and Chitral known for their natural beauty. In addition, the Swat Museum, which had closed down after militants had taken over the area, and which was restored in 2014, now receives a steady flow of tourists from both within and outside the country.
A negative image due to terrorism is not the only ill plaguing our tourism industry. Provincial and federal governments have made little effort to develop comprehensive policies to attract tourists or to advertise the country as a travel destination. Our landscapes have suffered due to deforestation, pollution and ill-planned construction. The glaciers are melting away, the forts are crumbling and forests have been replaced by rows upon rows of hotels and cottages. But with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government recently taking the lead by introducing a tourism policy that aims at revamping historical sites, constructing roads and rejuvenating the environment through the planting of trees, things could change soon. Similar projects have been undertaken on a smaller scale in Karachi and Lahore with the launch of guided bus tours of the cities. These are laudable steps, however, in order to uplift the tourism industry as a whole, an overarching policy is needed at the national level to rebuild the country’s image and to protect its tourist destinations from further deterioration.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2016.
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