During 2007, the Ministry of Tourism would market its tourism products - history and heritage sites, mountains, Northern Areas, religious tourism as well as Pakistani people and their hospitality.

SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Bureau Chief, Islamabad
Dec 25 - 31, 2006

The Ministry of Tourism would be celebrating 2007 as "Visit Pakistan" year as more than 52 events have been planned all over the country to attract tourists from all over the world. President General Pervez Musharraf has formally declared 2007 as "Visit Pakistan Year" with the commitment to boost tourism in the country by providing maximum facilities to the tourists.

Addressing inaugural session of the ceremony, the President said that the government has planned to celebrate the year to mobilize maximum domestic and foreign tourists to Pakistan ranging from mountaineers, religious tourists, expedition travel writers, students and explores. He said that Pakistan has immense tourism potential which needed to be exploited through joint acts. The inaugural ceremony was attended by over 200 foreign delegates, including tour operators, ministers and other tourism industry stakeholders.

The President highlighted that the present government has made significant efforts to boost tourism and vowed to do much more in this sector. The President noted that tourism sector in South Asia is much behind and the region has only 7 percent of the world tourism, whereas Pakistan has only 4 percent share in the South Asian tourism. He said that tourism is a multi-billion business and its income directly goes to poor class at grassroots level. Pakistan is the ideal destination for the foreign tourists having diversity and variety of culture, civilization and natural beauty, he added.

Earlier, Tourism Minister Ms. Nilofar Bakhtiar told newsmen at a press conference that the tourism ministry had finalized and printed a "Calendar of Events 2007 that carries dates of the events being held to promote tourism. She said the celebrations and the events would begin from Lahore Marathon on Jan 14, followed by one-week Pakistan Tourism Fair in Lahore beginning from Jan 15, besides a two-day competition of brass band by Pakistan armed forces on Jan 17 and 18. The event would help create a soft image of Pakistan commensurate with its tourism attractions and compatible with the socio-cultural heritage of the country.

During the year 2007, Ms. Bakhtiar said, the tourism ministry would market its tourism products, including history and heritage sites, mountains, northern areas, religious tourism as well as Pakistani people and their hospitality. "We need to end suppression and create an environment of openness in society," she said, adding that the tourism ministry, in collaboration with all four provincial governments, would ensure that all foreign tourists' stay in Pakistan would be very pleasant. "Law and order should not be an issue in "Visit Pakistan Year", she stressed.

Ms. Bakhtiar said the tourism ministry was cultivating brand ambassadors, besides contacting different countries, ambassadors, tour operators and other officials concerned for the promotion of a better image of Pakistan. The tourism ministry was also sending a lot of promotional material to all Pakistani embassies as well as tour operators in different countries.

The major tourism events being arranged during 2007 also include: Sibi Mela (Feb 4-5), National Skiing Championship, Malam Jaba (Feb 10-15), Thar Desert Festival, Marathon, cultural programme at Umarkot Fort, Sindh (Feb 16-18); Jashan-e-Baharan Spring Festival (Feb 18-23), Third Cholistan Jeep Rally with a cultural programme (March 8-10), Channan Pir Festival (Indus Guides) March 8-9, Mehrgarh Conference, Quetta (March 15th), Spring Blossom Festival, Northern Areas (March 15-20).

Similarly, from March 23 to 25 Tour of Islamabad, March 26 to 31 Gandhara Week, Historical Review of the Buddhist Civilization, Sound and Light Show, Taxila; April 11 to 14 Baisakhi (Hasan Abadal); April 12 to 24 Adventure/Extreme Sports, Deosai Plain, Northern Areas; April 12 to 13 Baisakhi Mela (Festival at Sakhi Sarwar), April 24 to 26 Train Safari, Khewra Salt Mines with a Cultural Programme, 49th meeting of UN WTO CSA; May 11 to 15 Chitral and Kalash Festival; May 16 to 21 White Water Rafting, Azad Kashmir; May 25 to 27 SAARC Tourism Mart Karachi.

On June 9, Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the First Ascent of Board Peak (8047m) will be held; from June 15 to July 15 Pakistan Women Kushek Training/Expedition will be held in Hunza; June 22 to 29 Shogran Festival, June 15 to 30 Aug Pakistan Broad Peak Golden Jubilee Expedition; June 25 to 27 Hunza Festival and the Tourism Convention; July 7 to 9 Shandur Polo Festival (Chitral-Gilgit), with a festival at Kalash.

Other events include: July 10 to 15 Karakorum Car Rally; July 15 to 17 Broghil Festival; July 23 to 28 Moutain Marathon (AJK, Kaghan); August 12 to 14 Freedom Jeep Rally, Gaddani Beach; August 14, 60th Independence Day; September 1-3 International Mountain Marathon, Hunza; September 1-6 Silk Route Festival (Northern Areas); Sept 3-6 Sufi Festival at Sehwan Sharif; Sept 7-9 International Mountain Bike Race, Kaghan; Sept 10-11 International Mountain Tourism Conference Islamabad; Sept 10-12 Karakorum International Film Festival KIFF, Islamabad, Sept 20-24 Painted Truck Caravan Karachi to Khyber, Sept 27 World Tourism Day Celebrations, Peshawar (Ramazan Celebrations in NWFP); Oct 9-14 Hot Air Balloning Competition, Islamabad; Oct 15-20 Jashn-e-Sahil, Gawadar; Oct 21-28 Journey Throgh Time Sound and Light Show and a cultural event at Moenjodaro; Nov 1 Jashn-eAzadi, Gilgit celebrations; Nov 1-13 walk through historic times; Nov 2-11 Birthday Celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev Jee at Lahore, Hasan Abadal and Nankana Sahib; Nov 10-19 International paragliding Competition, Islamabad, Swat and Azad Kashmir; Nov 21-27, International Festival of Performing Arts, Lahore; Nov 24 World Buddhist Congress and a Festival of Asian Arts and Grafts, Islamabad; Dec 1-20 Pakistan Cultural Train Safari, Peshawar to Karachi; Dec 24 Christmas Celebration, Lahore; Dec 30 Tourism Convention and the Closing Ceremony, Islamabad with the cultural show.

In his inaugural speech President Musharraf advised the Ministry of Tourism to specially focus on mountaineers, religious tourist, expedition travel writers, students and explores. Earlier, in his message on the World Tourism D-day, with the befitting theme of "Tourism Enriches Individuals, Families, Communities, and all the World", he had referred to recognition of tourism as a powerful tool for booting economic, social, and cultural development world wide, more so in developing countries. At the same time, calling Pakistan as a land of much splendor, he had pointed to the ongoing process of revitalizing the nation's tourism industry, saying it had remained largely undiscovered. Reviewing the government's vision to make tourism an engine of growth, he also emphasized the need for development of Pakistan as a tourism market with improved national standards and service.

Moreover, taking note of intensifying competition from regional countries, he had observed, and rightly so, that the quality of services offered would make the difference in times to come, Little wonder, he found World Tourism Organization's designated theme for the year as fitting in with the country's own resources and scheme of things. All this should distinctly appeal to reason. In this regard, he made a pointed reference to investments in improvement and expansion of infrastructure, which would serve to facilitate domestic and foreign tourist traffic. However, it will be also noted that he made no secret of the need for the strategy of public-private partnership, understandably because of the latter's big stake in tourism industry. This must have been why he gave an assurance that the government, as facilitator to prospective investors from the private sector, would not hesitate to come forward with all possible assistance. Now that in his inaugural address at the 'Visit Pakistan', he again noted that Pakistan's immense tourism potential needed to be exploited through joint action, it will point to greater efforts from the private sector. For, he, especially, asked the foreign delegates to the inaugural session to come back again, to see the progress in the light of his elaboration of the government's commitment to do much more to boost tourism.

As for his comprehension of the likely problems arising in the way of the big effort, he referred to the backwardness in the tourism sector in the South Asian region, which has only 7 percent of the world tourism, with Pakistan claiming only a 4 percent share in South Asian tourism. However, he noted that Pakistan with its diversity and variety of culture, civilization and natural beauty could become an ideal destination for the foreign tourists. And this he rightly described as opportunities for mountaineering, trekking, religious tourism, hunting and jeep safari among others. All this is quite confidence inspiring in a way. But since the future of tourism in this country, as anywhere else in the world, largely depends on the degree of its attraction to the private enterprise, its under development in this country, can be directly attributed to doubts and misgivings in the minds of private entrepreneurs.

Although they are attracted the most by the prospects of profits and are even willing to take calculated risks, yet at the same time they dread too frequent changes in government policies, particularly with reference to taxes and infrastructure facilities. Add to this a long spell of multidirectional terrorism to which this country has remained exposed, and this will bring to the fore the reality of deep depression in the sector. This has also reference to too many ghastly incidents of killings of foreigners, often from the thrust of religious intolerance. Thanks to the President's personal efforts for the promotion of peace through the approach of enlightened moderation, the situation on the ground has significantly improved. One hopes it would pave the ground not only for the revival of tourism, but also for greater glorification in an improved environment of public-private partnership.