After years of languishing because of the country’s security situation, the tourism industry in Pakistan is once again receiving the attention it deserves. In recent years, interest has been renewed in the traditional tourist spots in Pakistan’s northern areas and there has been a rise in the number of tourists. However, there is one tourism market niche that is being ignored, which could, with the right policy changes, turn into a very profitable enterprise for Pakistan — the religious tourism market, which contributes around 40 per cent to revenues generated by international tourism every year. Pakistan could potentially reap enormous benefits as it is home to some of the holiest sites for Sikhs. In addition, there are several important pilgrimage sites of Buddhists and Hindus in the country too. Pakistan is also home to ancient sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation. To a certain kind of tourist, historical landmarks are very attractive travel destinations.
According to a World Bank report, Pakistan has the potential to attract thousands of visitors every year simply by easing its visa policies and ensuring greater security for tourists. As many as 83 per cent of the Sikh diaspora settled in the US, the UK and Canada would like to visit religious sites in Pakistan but are restricted from doing so because of visa application constraints, fear over security and general lack of tourist infrastructure. The World Bank has shown interest in helping Pakistan reach out to this untapped market through a $50 million project. With the right amount of support from the federal and provincial governments, the project has the potential to generate a large number of jobs and substantial economic growth. A major hindrance is the disjointed policies that govern the tourism sector and prove prohibitive for individuals seeking entrance into the country. The success of the World Bank project is therefore heavily dependent on the government’s cohesive efforts towards the development of welcoming policies for tourists.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2016.
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