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Role of e-tourism and CPEC in boosting tourism industry

Pakistan is rich in eye-catching scenic beauty. As the place abounds with diverse culture, traditions, historical places, beautiful valleys, attractive tourist spots, beaches, historical civilizations and much more, Pakistan is an ideal travel destination to visit. Pakistan is home to one of the world’s oldest historical civilization that ranges from Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa and Taxila and these prove to be archaeological allures for many local and foreign tourists to witness the great civilizations of all times. The Mughal era and its archaic architecture has also left its mark on the history of the subcontinent. Monuments like Badshahi Mosque, Jahangir Tomb, Lahore Fort, Shalimar Garden, and the tomb of Nur Jehan are great sources to analyze the realm of the Mughal Empire. Apart from those manmade memorials, Pakistan is also bestowed with God-gifted lush green valleys that range from Swat, Hunza, Naran and Kaghan, to the heaven on earth, Kashmir. The scenic beauty of Pakistan is also complemented by the beaches of Karachi and Gwadar.

Despite such richness in culture, tradition, historical sites, civilization, beautiful valleys, Pakistan has failed miserably to attract a bulky number of the tourists to the country, whereas our neighbors have done impressively. It is rightly said that Pakistan, while being rich in natural resources, lacks management that would befit the tourism industry, which was earlier marred by terrorism and, in the recent past, the negligence from the successive governments. To take the bull by the horns and to boost the tourism industry the present government must place result-oriented measures. Earlier, certain campaigns like ‘Amazing Pakistan, ‘Visit Pakistan’ were launched but unfortunately, they left the task unaccomplished.

Recently, British Airways has announced it would resume direct flights to Pakistan after a 10-year absence, thus becoming the first Western airline to restart such flights. In similarly encouraging developments, Portugal has declared Pakistan safe for travel, while France is also relaxing its advisory policy on tourism in the wake of the improved security situation.

Growth of e-tourism

The number of tourists in Pakistan have exponentially increased in the last 10 years despite the country earning the fourth position in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report. While the number of tourists in Pakistan circled around 840,000/annum in 2007, it has successfully exceeded the 1.75 million mark in the year 2017, with the numbers strongly expected to increase in coming years with further improvement in security conditions. However foreign tourists only make up for merely 7.4% of the entire tourism and travel spending in the country. One of the major factors in this hesitation of foreign tourists in coming to Pakistan is due to the lack of awareness of destinations in Pakistan as well as a lack of any renowned online platform that provides end-to-end travel solutions to the tourists.

Pakistan has been touted as “World’s Top Travel Destination for 2018” with a booming tourism industry than ever before, but the key to unlock the full potential of this industry lies in the hands of the IT sector. The increasing number of tourists in Pakistan is an assuring sign regarding the sustainability of this industry in coming years. While the IT sector has divested its expertise to other industries such as finance in the form of fintechs, here lies a great opportunity for investors and local IT startups to tap into the increasingly lucrative yet comparatively untapped tourism industry of Pakistan. Not only the establishment of such e-tourism initiatives will create great investment opportunities for the IT sector, but also it will help in promoting a softer image of the country, which in turn would holistically elevate all sectors of the national economy by indulging the interest of more investors.

CPEC and tourism

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also strengthening Pakistan’s tourism industry. CPEC has opened avenues in business, trade and investment. International tourism contributes around $1,340 billion to the world economy. After the unfolding of CPEC, the number of Chinese people traveling to Pakistan has increased, with some of them going on official visits, some to work on the projects under CPEC and others involved in business activities. Pakistan possesses a huge potential to attract foreign travelers, especially Chinese tourists. Through CPEC, Pakistan’s infrastructure is improving, providing easy access to tourists to major tourist destinations of Pakistan. Also, through this influx, Pakistan’s SME sector will also flourish, encouraging joint ventures between the two countries.

The significant influx of Chinese tourists in Pakistan opens the opportunities for entrepreneurship, with private sector investment coming in from China. Pakistan, being a tourist destination based on its scenic beauty, will further prompt tourists to visit the country. Tourism industry of Pakistan will also open avenues of collaboration for Chinese and local entrepreneurs. Any joint venture between Chinese and Pakistani entrepreneurs may be mutually beneficial. It will also help to promote mutual understanding and people to people contacts will strengthen public diplomacy. Such endeavors will also strengthen the existing ties of deep-rooted friendship between the two nations.

Globally, the tourism industry generates nearly 10% of the world GDP, while in Pakistan its share is merely 2.7%. In many countries, this share is around 30% with almost similar opportunities for attracting tourists. Malaysia with its ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ brand earns roughly $20 billion annually through tourism while Turkey earns $40 billion. India under the slogan of ‘Incredible India’ continues to attract more and more tourists despite its not so impressive infrastructure and transportation system. Pakistan’s tourism potential is unlimited. Trekking, mountaineering, white water rafting, wild boar hunting, desert jeep safaris, skiing, are some of the attractions for adventurous travelers.

While the government is creating a broader policy to attract foreign tourists to the country, it is down to the private sector to step in to cater to the requirements of the tourists on the ground. All these efforts will result in a new era of progress and prosperity in the country.

The writer is a Karachi based freelance columnist and is a banker by profession. He could be reached on Twitter @ReluctantAhsan

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