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What happened to National Tourism Policy?

This article appeared in the Daily Nation
Travel is a function of prosperity; mostly. Apart from business and work, people travel for so many different reasons: to explore, to feel, to learn, to get away from humdrum of the fast lane life, and to lose themselves or find themselves. George Santayana, a Philosopher, has been quoted as describing, “We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what.” Fortunately, Pakistan has been blessed with pristine natural settings and everything else to cater for the diverse needs of wide range of unique travel tastes.

Pakistan is located in a rare position, both geographically and figuratively. Travel attractions – historic, heritage, natural, adventurous, ecological — are richly distributed on this land from Astola in the Arabian Sea to Khunjrab on Pakistan China boarder up in the north. Travelers, site seers, pilgrims, explorers, trekkers, and mountaineers have been coming here from all over the globe since the time when there were no modern means of transport, forecast weather, showing maps and pictures or making reservations before planning a trip.

Still, in Pakistan, travel sector as an industry has failed to harness its full potential and generate revenue that it can. This, in addition to the security situation, is mainly due to lack of comprehensive travel policy to direct and coordinate the efforts of all stakeholders in the country.

Pakistan's National Assembly was informed on Monday that a total of 708,724 foreign tourists visited Pakistan during the year 2008-09. In a written statement, Minister for Tourism Atta-ur-Rehman informed the House that foreign exchange earned through tourists during 2008-09 amounted to $222.1 million.Rehman said the Tourism Ministry had signed tourism agreements with Afghanistan, China and Iran to promote the industry.

If I may recall it correctly, the first travel plan was conceived in 1967. Later, some measures were taken to control pollution in mountainous areas in 1983 and in 1988 by making expeditions responsible for leaving camping sites clean of garbage, supply of kerosene oil to the porter and contribution of cleanup operation fee of $200. In addition to isolated projects, rules, regulations and activities like compilation of tourists’ statistics in 1971 and UNESCO’s Master Plan for the Preservation of Mohenjo Daro (1972), no serious attempt was made till the promulgation of the National Tourism Policy 1991.

The National Tourism Policy of 1991 focused on preservation of environment and ecology and launch of educational programs for creating awareness and conservation efforts. The objectives of National Tourism Policy of 1991 do not appear to be enough to take care of tourism as a source of economic growth capable of generating mass employment opportunities, alleviating poverty, and positioning Pakistan as a global brand capable of capitalizing on the increasing international travel, trade, and investment opportunities. Sadly, even the stated objectives of Tourism Policy 1991 were never achieved. Degradation of natural resources continues and the proposed educational programs were never incorporated in educational curriculum at any level.

Later, in 2001, the government revised the tourism policy 1991. Major highlights were that tourism shall continue to be treated as an industry. Year round tourism will be promoted. Efforts will be made for qualitative improvement, development in environment, human resources, tourist services, and the tourist product. Federal and provincial governments will be asked to bring all legislation in consonance with demand of the tourist industry. It will stimulate private sector involvement in tourism through provision of industry support constructs. This policy like the previous one could not bring out desired stimulus.

Once again, the government is working on National Tourism Policy and it will be unveiled soon. The new policy is being finalized in consultation with all major stakeholders - federal ministries, provincial governments, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Northern Areas as well as private sector concerns.

At this stage, what the policy makers need to understand is that the main rationale for formulating a comprehensive tourism policy is rooted, on one hand, in the convergence of socio economic benefits and employment potential of tourism industry and on the other, in the growing demand for tourism products that has led to tremendous increase in number of travelers. WTO in “Tourism 2020 Vision,” forecasts that the tourism volume, employment and export earning is expected to move away from developed countries towards less developed countries. In order to benefit from the shift in travelers’ trend, the proposed policy should be able to activate and coordinate the efforts of all stakeholders and develop infrastructure to harness the potential that tourism offers.

To make visible economic progress in travel sector, it may be recommended that all the stakeholders the government will have to co-ordinate the efforts of all concerned departments like PTDC, PIA, Survey of Pakistan, museums, city governments, Auqaf (custodians of many touristy heritage locations), Archaeology Departments and Evacuee Property Trust (Care takers of built heritage left by non Muslims) in public sector and hotels, tour operators and travel agents, and transport companies in private sectors.

World Tourism Organisation (Silk Rout Project), IUCN, the Word Conversation Union, World Wildlife Fund Pakistan, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (there are eight recognised International Ramsar sites in Pakistan), UNESCO (the Lahore Fort and the Shalimar Garden are on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List), Agha Khan Foundation (hexagonal shrine of Shah Rukn-e-Alam in Multan and a mosque at village Bhong near Sadiq Abad have already won prestigious Agha Khan International Architecture Award) and other interested international agencies can be approached for purposeful partnership.

The policy should provide incentive to those who are interested in investment to develop necessary infrastructure. The glut of government rest houses, especially those situated off the beaten track (also those that are on track), which remain unutilized unless some officials or well connected tourists have to stay there, should be made known and their acquisition made possible, may be from a central location. Putting up a Website with a listing of all the rest houses in Pakistan, with complete addresses, so that they can be booked in advance even from abroad may be good idea to start with. This can be done by putting services along with other meaningful and current information about every possible destination in the country online.

In this age when almost everything starts online, there should be a comprehensively developed online system to access information, residential facilities, transport channels, and other services required by international travelers. The sites offering travel information should also include pictorial travelogues and travel stories. The personal experiences of travelers and referrals are the best ways to learn about new places.

When most touristy location in the world are becoming crowded, people are looking for places that are pristine, quiet, serene, and those they can have to themselves. Pakistan still has some left in the country. The need is to market the travel potentials of the country, largely unknown to outside world. And there is no other medium better than the Web for this purpose, particularly when every interested person is logging on to find what is left there to be seen.

Pakistan has a lot to offer to any travelers. I say if you have something, why not show it?

Update: Pakistan appoints task force on medical tourism

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 11:42 AM,


At 8:24:00 PM, Blogger jalalHB said...

Wrong question - What happened to the nation?


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