Twenty-five years ago Pakistan had a busy tourist industry, not huge business but steady. The country was for the most part safe to travel in even for unaccompanied women and the people hospitable and welcoming. The 9/11 event and the descent into chaos and the Day of the Terrorist changed all that. The newly-built hotels in Hunza emptied and some went bankrupt. Domestic tourism all but ceased to exist and foreign tourists reduced to a handful, mostly intrepid mountaineers. Tourism was in the doldrums for over a decade but started to flicker into life again three or four years ago, and today is displaying a healthy upswing that bodes well for the future of what ought to be a booming industry given the plethora of tourist opportunities the country has to offer.
The indicators are all concrete, not mere whimsy. The recent introduction of a visa-on-arrival scheme is going to act as a strong magnet for foreign tourists for whom the obtaining of a Pakistan visa can be a tedious and time-consuming process. The business community will welcome it allowing quick and easy access. On the corporate front Pakistan Services Limited which owns the Pearl Continental chain is raising Rs7 billion to fund upcoming projects — new hotels in Multan and Mirpur to name but two. The hospitality industry generally is experiencing an uptick linked to CPEC; and domestic tourism is on the rise as people feel safer and more confident and willing to spend disposable income on recreational travel. There are anecdotal reports that many of the Hunza hotels are already booked through much of the new season with both foreign and domestic custom.
Macroeconomic stability plays its part, with 5.3 per cent growth in GDP in the last financial year. This sends a signal to the world outside — that Pakistan is open for business, that it is safe to travel and trade here and that visitors can expect an international-quality experience when they use tourist and hospitality facilities. Good news tends to be a rarity and fleeting, but this has an air of solidity about it that offers a hopeful future.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2018.