Forbes Magazine has included Pakistan in a recently-released list of ‘10 coolest places to go to in 2019.’ This sounds like a dream start for a country that is struggling to market itself abroad and emerge out of the shadows of years of conflict and negative image.
Such a fantastic news in this context certainly augurs well for revival of international tourism in Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan beautifully set the intention for the year when he stated that “Our New Year resolution is to wage Jihad against the four ills of our country: poverty, illiteracy, injustice and corruption.”
The seeds of a mindset shift, planted by Khan over 20 years ago, may start bearing fruits in 2019. Tourism of course can be seen as many of the tools required to rehabilitate Pakistan’s image, revive the industry through generation of jobs and increasing productivity. But then this cannot happen in isolation.
Although it is important to celebrate even small victories, the larger vision of bringing the masses out of poverty remains at the core of every policy decision. Having been given a clearly articulated mission statement, we can all expect the year to generally gain momentum towards positive and tangible outcomes in the areas that need attention. We can expect to see fewer people in poverty, a transformation in education, more transparency in bringing justice in a timely fashion as well as much lower levels of corruption.
Looking at our neighbours in the region like Turkey and China, one can assume that anything is possible if one is willing to change and open up to learning and growing. Leaning into China’s governance experience and asking for help seems to be triggering a cascade of positive outcomes for us. Rightfully, with the help of Chinese friends, Khan is tackling problems head on at the grassroots level. One such initiative is attempting to alleviate hunger and poverty by providing poultry and eggs to poverty-stricken individuals and households in rural Pakistan. This approach will surely be an efficient investment for the government as well as promote self-help for the local beneficiaries. Atomic decisions like these will eventually compound into the macro results for which these tools and strategies are originally designed. One wonders, are there not other more important national priorities like building dams, improving the business tax code, and fighting corruption at the grassroots level? Yes, there are. However, is it possible to use a multi-pronged approach in an attempt to achieve a ‘tourism renaissance’ this year? Do we want to achieve unconventional rates of foreign visitors, a better local infrastructure and improved national image? Yes, we do.
To make Pakistan a preferred tourism destination for business people as well as leisure tourists, a comprehensive national tourism development strategy would require both macro- and micro-level investments in the tourism infrastructure itself i.e. good transportation conditions, clean toilets, access to safe water, control of law and order, provision of trained workforce, efficient banking facilities and so on. A holistic development strategy would include all such physical and social infrastructure factors while employing sustainable approaches to business.
Lastly, while pursuing micro focuses internally, long-term planning must also be given equal importance. For instance, how up-to-date, achievable, and holistic is our ten-year economic reform plan and are this year’s efforts building up towards that bigger vision on all fronts? Since we have barely ever experienced continuity of government, is the future being factored into planning for the next 50 years of Pakistan’s life? Will the current plans and policies sustain the time test? Have we considered setting up research and development, human development, and technological incubators all over the country?
While these ideas may seem far-fetched, today is a good day to reflect upon our past performance and possibly pivot in our general approach so that we can start building a brighter, safer, and robust future to achieve geo-stability.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2019.