Pakistan has long been considered to have the potential to be one of the top tourist destinations in the world, offering a diverse landscape which starts with the sea in the south and rises to the peak of some of the tallest mountains in the world. It also boasts a diverse ecology. And with eco-tourism the buzz word in the industry today, Pakistan seems to have it all, yet it does not have anything at the moment. The government is cognizant of this and is looking to exploit this niche. A member of the recently-formed state-run National Tourism Coordination Board says that eco-tourism not only requires lesser investment than other fields of tourism but also actively engages the local community.
But how do we get from having potential to exploiting it? Experts, and even the government, realise that there has not been any concerted planning, inter-departmental cooperation or even the capacity to grow tourism. A long, hard road lies ahead to bridge this gap. First, we must strive to become more inviting as a country to foreigners. This will mean inviting people from across the world to visit and sample what we have to offer. Second, we must listen to the suggestions offered by those who visit. Most of the international bloggers and vloggers who have visited the country in recent years have all praised the big hearts and the warmth of the Pakistani people, but they also noted how we handicap ourselves owing to an abject lack of critical infrastructure.
This is where we should perhaps look to and learn from other countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, the UAE and even up and coming tourist destinations such as Azerbaijan. While we learn from them how to boost tourism, we must also learn from the mistakes these places make and see what impact excessive tourism can have on some of these eco-tourism sites and how we can make such offerings more sustainable.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2019.