IMPACT OF MILITANCY ON TOURISM

PAKISTAN IS NOT AN EXCEPTION BECAUSE TOURISTS BEING ATTACKED IN MANY COUNTRIES

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Dec 3 - 9, 2012

A well established national tourism sector contributes to employment, raises national income and improves any country's balance of payments. It serves as an important engine for promoting economic growth and plays a key role in poverty reduction, especially in developing economies like Pakistan. Encouraging travel also boosts consumer and business confidence; it supports two-way trade, and creates export income for the poor countries with few similar alternatives.

Northern areas of Pakistan enjoy unique geographical features in the world with three stunning mountain ranges - Karakoram, Hindukush, and Himalayas. These picturesque mountains and valleys lure countless visitors every year; in particular, the Ziarat valley - located near the city of Quetta in Baluchistan. The Juniper forests, the second biggest in the world, are the main source of the lush green landscape of the Ziarat valley. Some of the trees in the Juniper forest were planted some 5,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest Juniper valleys.

Pakistan is home to a rich variety of flora, fauna and animal life. The mountain ranges feature alpine meadows and coniferous forests, leading down into desert plains, coast line and wetlands. All of these areas offer an amazing array of vegetation and wildlife. On can see dozens of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and fish. The Indus Blind Dolphin is one of the most famous inhabitants of Pakistan waters.

Pakistan has been ranked on 113 out of 133 countries this year on the Travel and Tourism (T&T) Competitiveness Index. Some of the other disadvantages for Pakistan include a poor tourism infrastructure such as hotel rooms; available ATMs accepting visa cards and prevailing security situation. The downfall of Pakistan's tourism and travel industry can also be illustrated by the fact that despite many competitive disadvantages, Pakistan ranked 40th for air travel and 39th in ground transport structure, but dropped to 99th and 73rd respectively in 2009.

Pakistan is not an exception because the tourism picture is also not very rosy elsewhere also. The UN's World Tourism Organization recently predicted that growth in international tourism would be almost flat or see possible decline mainly because of the global economic downturn. World Economic Forum in 2009 had stated that a global recession would impact the entire travel and tourism sector, despite its strong performance in previous years. The financial crisis and economic recession are bringing about tighter credit conditions, high consumer debt, decreased housing wealth, stagnant wages, rising unemployment, all of which are leading to a reduction in travel demand, principally business travel.

In Pakistan, the poor infrastructure, lack of coordination among different government bodies, less focus laid on improving the image of the country by national campaigns are just some of the reasons for the decline of the sector in the present years. Lack of security and terrorism has also caused a severe blow to Pakistan's tourism industry and can be listed as the major reason for its poor performance.

Rising militancy in Pakistani's scenic sites has caused a major blow to the tourism industry, although after these areas were cleared of militant groups in 2009, a campaign to reintroduce tourism was organized by the government. Tourism is still limited because of a lack of proper infrastructure and highly volatile security throughout the country in general and northern areas.

Pakistan earned 16 billion rupees (approximately US$200 million US) from 800,000 visitors in 2007. Less than 400,000 tourists came in 2008, bringing in only 8 billion rupees. Ongoing war on terror has plunged Pakistan's earnings from tourism last year. People are not coming from the rest of the world as they have been advised by their governments not to go to Pakistan. After many years of turbulent war, Pakistan remains an area that is still unsettled and unpredictable.

The tourism industry has suffered the most after 9/11. However, there has been little research on the perception of violence and instability in areas which were practically untouched by conflicts in the neighborhood. A research paper authored by Dr Fazlur Rehman of the Institute of Geography, Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Peshawar and Dr Arndt Holdschalg from the University of Hamburg has documented the impact of terrorism on tourism in Chitral.

The number of foreigners who visited the district peaked in 1993 when a record 3,054 registered with the police, but it plummeted in the aftermath of 9/11. Foreign tourists numbered 2, 574 in 2001, but dropped down to 372 in 2003. However, there was an improvement in 2006 when 1,469 foreign tourists came to Chitral. Data analysis shows a close correlation between national and international events and the number of tourists. A point worth noting is that the highest number of tourists was recorded at 1,361 in 1974, decreased to 619 in the 1980s, because of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

To understand the trend of terrorism against tourism, one can cite the following terrorist attacks on tourists or tourism destinations to look at the similarities of these events. Gunmen in Ethiopia's arid north attacked a group of European tourists traveling in one of the world's lowest and hottest regions, killing five, wounding two, and kidnapping two in January 2012.

The 2005 Sharm-el-Sheikh attacks were a series of terror attacks on July 23, 2005, perpetrated by an Islamist organization, targeting the Egyptian resort city of Sharm-el-Sheikh, located on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Eighty-eight people killed, majority of them Egyptians, and over 200 were wounded by the blasts, making the attack the deadliest terrorist action in the country's history.

The 2003 Casablanca bombings were a series of suicide bombings on May 16, 2003, in Casablanca, Morocco. The attacks were the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country's history. Forty-five people were killed as a result of these attacks (12 suicide-bombers and 33 victims). The suicide bombers came from the shanty towns of Sidi Moumen, a poor suburb of Casablanca, and were from the Salafia Jihadia group.

The Luxor Massacre refers to the killing of 62 people, mostly tourists that took place on November 17, 1997, at Deir-el-Bahri, an archaeological site and major tourist attraction located across the River Nile in Egypt.