TOURISM UNDER SECURITY THREATS

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
Jan 05 - 18, 2009

Tourism in Pakistan has been an attraction for locals as well as foreigners and foreign investment because of variety in landscapes in the country ranging from long range shoreline, deserts, full-bloomed four seasons, epochal cultural heritage sites to picturesque high level hill summits. Coming for bonjour around natural beauties embedded in the country millions of visitors flock in different time periods every year. Some are peculiarly in to expedition for mountains hiking while others are on professional tours to ponder at marks left by few of the world oldest civilizations. Amongst them are those whose voyages are only to take pleasure of diversified sceneries.

However, ongoing law and order conditions especially in the northern parts of the country are affecting outrageously the tourism beside other sectors. It is reverberated at many platforms that if cared properly tourism can earn government substantial foreign exchange. More said than done, nothing has emerged to ensure cares the sector requires. Nor, government succeeds in controlling perverse state of security which hurts tourism at worst as it befalls in secured environment normally; failing to which restricts tourists' movement and becomes primary investment constraint.

As tourism is one of the sectors which earn government foreign revenue, its robustness depends highly on the propensity foreigners are posing towards tourism services of the country. Disappointing tourists mean revenue wane and vice versa. First quarter of the current fiscal year depicted decline in foreign exchange revenue from the sector over the corresponding period of FY08. During July-Oct FY09 government earned approximately $68 million from Pak and foreign national tourists while in the same period last year it earned approximately $79 million.

Review of FDI trends during last six fiscal years revealed that whenever insecurity and risk of life intensified or social disorder in the country found foreigners having been issued travel advisories by their governments FDI in tourism went downward. There might be some other factors such as economic compulsion that, for instance, in FY05 brought down the tourism FDI graph to six years low point, but safety remained the main catalyst behind investment fluctuation. FDI in tourism was recorded $0.08 million in FY02, $0.07 million FY03, 0.05 FY04, 0.03 FY05, 3.36 FY06, 30.18 FY07, and $41.5 million in FY08.

Apart from insignificant inflows of FDI in tourism sector of Pakistan as compared to other sectors, during bygone years discrepancy in its volumes seemed to be fallout of deteriorating law and order situation in the country. Given the SBP statistics which show small size of foreign investment of $1.3 million in tourism during the first five months of this financial year, it can safely be presumed that full year volume will not outnumber FY08 investment of $41.5 million. In fact, rising incidents of terrorism in northern areas and in Punjab which have been magnetizing tourists set aside opposition, if any, against such presumption.

In Pakistan cultural heritages are both vast and mystically captivating enveloped within territories nationwide. While Mehar Gar in Balochistan is recognized as possessing richest and oldest signs of human existence on earth, Moen Jo Daro, Sindh and Taxila, Punjab dragged archeologists into thinking what inculcated sophistication in dwellers in creating appalling architecture and developing so orderly living standards.

The way foreign anthropologists and archeologists enthuse to preserve history of this region seems to be abysmally absent in local approach. It is not just a matter of preservation of cultural heritage rather it means lot to government revenue generated through tourists' traffic to fine-looking sites and also brings economic prosperity through increase in employment opportunities.

Ironically, improvements of tourism spots have not occurred as needed. Although elusive law and order is rightfully attributed to poor developments, sluggishness of authorities and concerned federal and provincial departments can not be exonerated completely from neglecting rundown conditions of locations and no or negligible instances of organization of tourists' tempting sites.

For example, we have been hearing of construction plan of Gorakh Hills situated near district Dadu, Sindh since decades but for one reason or another implementation has been far a dream. The site's uniqueness lies in its unusual and contrast climate to usual arid base in the province of Sindh. Located on high altitude, it dresses up surrounding areas with pervasive chilliness, often records snow falling during winter. This is actually what distinguishes the Hill from other hill spots in northern areas.

Let alone development of resorts or proper transportation system to access the Hill, appropriate public awareness has not yet been created. It is interesting to note that majority of people living inside Pakistan, even within Sindh, are unaware of uncommon name of the Hill and that they can experience bird-eye-view and catch up with snow even when inside the Sindh province. Seemingly, the construction of Gorakh Hill station hits snags because of non release of funds from the federal government. Perhaps, the fate of other tourism projects nationwide is no different owing to underestimation of potential of the sector.

Compounded with terrorism and militancy the gravity of ignorance is gaining its toll. Thus, basically, from two fronts tourism sector of Pakistan is buffeted. One is high security risk which is compelling tourists to retract itinerary. And second, importantly, is apparent irresponsiveness of the government to the sector that is on back foot. In addition, tourism sector is not getting inasmuch investments as it certainly requires. Establishment of alluring sites is not an activity in isolation but it carries along with coordinated building of amenities that indicate heavy investments in motel, infrastructure, etc. Within tight budget investments essential for the sector can not be earmarked from development account. Therefore, public-private partnership with locals and BOT accords with foreign investors may be helpful in mobilizing capital for tourism sector development.