Sindh is quite unique. While on the one hand, it can be seen doing its best to make remote destinations accessible to tourists, on the other, it has moved to block online international ticketing and hotel reservation websites.
The Sindh Directorate of Tourist Services (DTS) argues that at least 60 such websites are operating in the country without valid travel and tourism operation licences.
These sites, the DTS says, are not subject to Pakistan’s tax regime and enjoy a competitive price advantage of 15-20 per cent over local travel and tourism operators. The sole complaint — based on which Sindh has approached the FIA — claims that the sites mislead customers regarding room rates and availability and cancellation policy, among other legal issues.
The call for a ban on the websites used by travellers worldwide and Pakistanis seeking to travel abroad comes at a time when the federal government is making a serious effort to attract tourists to the country under a relaxed visa regime for almost the entire world. It is even more puzzling given that in the current fiscal budget, the Sindh government had set aside Rs250 million for steps intended to boost tourism in the province.
Sindh clearly struggles with new technology bringing a revolution on its streets. We have seen this with its handling of ride-hailing applications. While Sindh is right to be worried about the tax it may be robbed of by these companies, it must realise that ultimately, these sites help bring greater tourist footfall — and with that the revenue that it badly needs. Instead of fighting these service providers in counterintuitive measures, Sindh should try to find a way to work with them so as to contribute to efforts to realise the true potential of tourism in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2019.
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