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Jun 12 - 18, 2000

Tourism in Pakistan is a subject on which a lot is said by a large number of people responsible for promoting it. Such persons are more eloquent about their intentions and plans and about expenditures sanctioned. But tourism has made little progress beyond where it was in the mid seventies.

Tourism, by its very nature is highly potential industry for employment generation and foreign exchange earnings. Other countries endowed with much less of Nature's bounties and historical and cultural heritage have built up thriving tourist industry. Their international marketing have been such that, Sri Lanka for example, continues to receive foreign tourists despite the domestic war that has been going on there.

International marketing of our country as a tourist destination and Destination Marketing, as it is called in the tourist industry has never been done in Pakistan except when the Visit Pakistan Year 2001 program was adopted in 1999. At that time Mushahid Hussain Syed was Minister for Tourism. To find answers to many questions of our readers, tour operators and hoteliers, PAGE interviewed I. R. Kazimi. He was appointed a Consultant, by the Nawaz Sharif government, for Visit Pakistan Year 2001 Programme.

Page: Will you kindly explain what is Visit Pakistan Year (VPY) 2001?

IRK: Visit Pakistan Year 2001 is first ever serious effort at destination marketing. Although it had been proposed first by me in 1994 to declare 1997 as Visit Pakistan Year to commensurate with Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Visit any country Year, is an instrument of destination marketing which has developed over the last three decades. It is a year-long, multi-facet promotional plan whereby the country desiring to project itself internationally, as a tourist destination, polishes up on its existing tourist products and services, establishes new products or new advantages to older products, introduces new services or attractions for the tour operators, airlines, etc. and for potential tourists abroad. All these require elaborate planning, a strong domestic tourist industry and, more important, on-ground development and marketing activities at least two years ahead of the chosen year.

Page: What was your concept plan?

IRK: Not only that I conceived the format, developed marketing strategy, identified marketing tools, proposed the cost-effective channels for on-ground marketing and promotional activities, I also co-ordinated with the provincial governments and helped in identifying their respective clandestine products for development and gave a calendar of events whereby we were to have some touristic events at various places all over the country, every week of the year. I also prepared the budget for the pre-event inputs and activities.

Page: Marketing the event would have cost a lot and we don't see any of it?

IRK: Yes, it could have cost a lot, but my marketing strategy — which met the Minister's appreciation — was to target not the tourists but the tour operators, wholesalers, influential travel writers etc. who, in turn, would motivate tourists to visit Pakistan. As regards the means of marketing, I kept the foreign print media to an affordable minimum. I had inducted the practical trade channels of TAAP, PHA, PATA Pakistan Chapter, Travel Writers Association of Pakistan (TWAP) all of which have their respective counterparts all over the world. PIA, of course, was the backbone of this strategy; for one thing, it would fly out our marketing tools to these organizations.

Page: Has the VPY programme launched?

IRK: Well, that is the assumption which the tourist industry within the country and abroad — as much as I know of it — has taken. And why wouldn't it? However, there is no evidence of on-ground marking of the event. On-ground marketing of events like VPY are internationally required to be at least eighteen months ahead if not more. But you would be surprised the Joint Secretary recently told me that it is on.

Page: Why do you disagree with that?

IRK: If the statement of the Joint Secretary is a reality, it will have negative impact on Pakistan's tourist industry. Cutting tapes here and there and dining over some speeches and saying that we are celebrating VPY is not going to do any service in promoting Pakistan's tourism but only add to its problems.

Page: Why do you say that?

IRK: So far, our tourist industry has grown not so much on state support but on the professionalism of private sector players. That professionalism image will also tarnish from a slipshod VPY.

PAGE: You seem to be very firm on that?

IRK: We don't have a buoyant economy to join in tourism promotion work. We don't have even the micro conditions in tourism's favour. I mean, even the tourist industry is in not in good shape, on top of it is the negative attitude of travel advisors from the G-8 countries and Commonwealth members. Our hotels and tour operators have their own problems. The provincial tourism administrations have so many clandestine products but they don't have the funds or professionals to develop them.