In many ways, South Asian tourism is linked to Pakistani tourism. As a wide continent, South Asia has an array of landscapes, including mountainous and low-lying landmasses, as well as coastal and rural tourist sites and a variety of climate zones. Pakistan is the most visited of the eight countries in South Asia. Tourists are a huge growth sector for these countries since they are all still in the growing stages, which means they have got a lot of room to expand. In 2017, tourism accounted for 8.9% of South Asia’s GDP.
Tourist management in Pakistan seems to have been a priority for Mohammad Ayub Khan while he served as prime minister from 1968 to 1969. A few tourist information centres were established as a consequence of his assistance. Pakistan’s Master Plan for Tourism Development was supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) from 1965 and 1985. When it comes to policymaking, tourism was first brought into the fold in 1972. This ministry was founded in 1972 under the leadership of the Minister of Religious Affairs and Tourism. As a result, tourism was included in the ministry’s renaming in 1976. In 1970, the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) was created by the federal government. The PTDC was formed to promote Pakistan as a tourist destination across the world.
A new ministry was created in 1977 called the Ministry of Culture, Sports, Tourism, and Archaeology. Nothing has changed or kept the same since then. A national tourist plan was first proposed in 1990, and work on it has been ongoing since then, albeit only in spurts. Pakistan has been a popular tourist destination since the 1970s, and the country’s tourism industry has been growing since then. In the 1980s, the heightened instability and turmoil brought on by the Afghan War hurt Pakistan’s tourism business. For example, according to Khalid Khan’s study, there is political unrest, a lack of tourism marketing, a lack of connected services like transportation, and the geographical remoteness of some tourist destinations.
Between 2004 to 2008, there was a temporary rebound in the economy. Pakistan was ranked 113th in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report (TTCR) in 2009. It is clear from the overall result that tourism in Pakistan is presently underperforming on a number of fronts. The business climate, safety and security, ICT readiness, human resource and labour market development, and health and hygiene are only some of Pakistan’s many concerns. Because to Pakistan’s 136-nation aviation infrastructure ranking, tourists are especially concerned about their safety while visiting the country.
For visitors, Pakistan’s low cost of living is a big appeal. Domestic tourism in Pakistan is on the rise because of this. In developing nations, domestic tourism is more common than international tourism. Pakistan had 46 million domestic tourists in 2009, with 50 percent of these tourists engaged in social travel and 14 percent engaging in leisure travel. Pakistan, on the other hand, has seen a wide range of international tourists. In 2014, there were 1133 million worldwide tourists, according to the World Tourism Organization. An estimated one million international tourists are anticipated to visit Pakistan in 2014. On a global scale, Pakistan has a relatively low proportion of international tourists. Pakistan got 6.7 percent of the 18.26 million foreign tourists in South Asia, compared to India’s 46 percent, while Europe accounted for 44 percent of all visitors to Pakistan. Sikhs accounted for a considerable percentage of religious tourists in Pakistan, while family and friends accounted for more than half of all overseas visitors. Additionally, religious holidays promote intra-regional and domestic tourism. Countries in South Asia that have religious importance attract tourists from throughout the world. For example, Buddhists go to Sri Lanka and Nepal, whereas Muslims go to Mecca.
When Pakistan received assistance from WTO and UNDP in developing a comprehensive tourist master plan in 2000, they did it with the cooperation of both organisations. In 2010, the tourism ministry produced a comprehensive national tourism plan, identifying Pakistan’s tourist industry’s marketing and development limits. It also emphasised the need of public-private partnerships in the development of tourism. Although Pakistan’s 18th Amendment left the work incomplete, the 2010 national tourist strategy was more comprehensive than the 1990 policy. The importance of sustainable tourism has been emphasised in Pakistan’s tourism policy since 2010.
After Pakistan’s 18th constitutional amendment, the federal ministry was disbanded, allowing the government to take control of the tourism business. It is possible that certain issues, such as promoting a positive international image, environmental limits and ecotourism, can only be addressed at the federal level. The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015 reveals that the tourism sector is not afforded the attention it requires at the federal and provincial levels. Pakistan earned a score of 120 for prioritising the travel and tourism sectors, down from 122 in 2017.
The implementation of appropriate laws and regulations to safeguard the environment and cultural heritage is essential for sustainable tourism. Hotels and restaurants, two of the industry’s most important players, have thus far resisted certification and regulation. Among Pakistan’s most significant statutes are the Tourist Guides and Travel Agencies Acts of 1976 and the Pakistan Hotels and Restaurants Act of 1976. It is hard to see how these laws might be expanded to accommodate more tourists. In this case, the Travel Agencies Act is more relevant, since it deals specifically with Pakistani tour operators.
However, when it comes to environmental preservation and social responsibility, the travel agency legislation is mainly focused on taxes and authorizations. A lack of criteria or certification implementation is also present on the ground. To enforce these restrictions, the Department of Tourist Services has been given the task. It was a federal ministry until the 18th amendment, when it became a province-owned agency. There are still several issues with the implementation of Pakistan’s Star System, which is designed to ensure that tour operators and hotels are providing high-quality services. It is impossible to achieve sustainable development objectives without law and strong enforcement.
Finally, the literature review shows important concerns that require further examination in the context of Pakistan and sustainable tourism in general. In Pakistan, there seems to be a lack of research on the long-term development of tourism. As a consequence of its cultural, religious, adventurous, and geographical attractions, Pakistan is a popular tourist destination. Terrorism had a terrible impact on tourism between 2000 and 2017, and tourism is now in a rebirth phase with no long-term sustainability.
*The author holds an M.Phil from National Defence University and Islamabad-based freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected].