UNEXPLORED POTENTIAL OF TOURISM
POOR INFRASTRUCTURE AND WAR ON TERROR GOING ON IN NORTHERN AREAS DISCOURAGE EVEN THE LOCAL TO GO TO THESE EXOTIC SITES
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Dec 3 - 9, 2012
Pakistan with its diverse cultures, people and landscapes has been attracting millions of tourists. The attractions range from archeological sites of Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa and Taxila to Himalayan hill stations. Pakistan is home to several mountain peaks, which attracts adventurers and mountaineers from around the world. The north part of Pakistan has many old fortresses, ancient architecture and the Hunza and Chitral valley, home to small pre-Islamic Animist Kalasha community claiming descent from Alexander the Great.
The romance of the historic Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is timeless and legendary, Punjab province has the site of Alexander's battle on the Jhelum River and the historic city Lahore, Pakistan's cultural capital, with many examples of Mughal architecture such as Badshahi Masjid, Shalimar Gardens, Tomb of Jahangir and the Lahore Fort.
Prior to commencement of the global economic crisis Pakistan received more than 500,000 tourists annually. However, this number has reduced to negligible due to spillover of war in terror and many countries declaring Pakistan unsafe and dangerous to visit.
In October 2006, just one year after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, The Guardian released what it described as "The top five tourist sites in Pakistan" in order to help the country's tourism industry. The five sites included Taxila, Lahore, The Karakoram Highway, Karimabad and Lake Saiful Muluk. To promote Pakistan's unique and various cultural heritages, the Prime Minister launched the "Visit Pakistan" marketing campaign in 2007. This campaign involved various events throughout the year including fairs and religious festivals, regional sporting events, various arts and craft shows, folk festivals and several openings of historical museums.
In 2009, The World Economic Forum's Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report ranked Pakistan as one of the top 25% tourist destinations for its World Heritage sites, ranging from mangroves in the South, to the 5,000-year-old cities of the Indus Valley Civilizationwhich included Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.
Tourism was a growing industry in Pakistan. With more and more foreign investment and funding, Pakistan was able to build its major road and air networks to facilitate mass movements and inter-city travel. Roads are being developed by several consultants from the northern areas all the way down to Karachi Port. However, the government has not been able to take the tourism market seriously within Pakistan.
Statistics show tourism is a "market led industry and not supply driven". This has led to fewer tour agencies being set up and development of historical sites. It has been estimated that the public and private sectors have gradually earned less income from the tourism market causing less investment and innovation within the industry. This has led to several sites to depreciate over time and the failure to meet minimum international standards has left many sites in poor states.
The 2008 World Economic forum's Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report (TTCR) ranked Pakistan 103 out of 124 countries to visit. This low figure was due to a weak travel and tourism infrastructure, low branding and marketing effectiveness and low priority the government gives to the travel and tourism industry. Despite various campaigns such as the Visit Pakistan 2007 scheme the number of tourists visiting Pakistan is on the decline.
Many experts have encouraged the government to again attract tourists to Pakistan by initiating the sponsorship of new businesses within the tourist market through building and maintaining the road and air networks to meet international standards. The maturation of human and natural resources can also contribute in development of this feeble industry. Advertising campaigns need to attract tourist by developing holiday packages tailored to explore the greater regions of the country.
Taxila located close to federal capital Islamabad this is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. There are 18 locations in the area which are world heritage sites. This is the region from where Buddhism travelled to the Far East and Persians, Greeks and Hindus all subsequently left their mark. One can watch the sun set from the remains of a Buddhist monastery or wander through the streets of an excavated Persian city.
Lahore's old city looks like a medieval costume drama, with horses, donkeys and ox-drawn carts transporting everything from stacks of hay to blocks of ice. The incredible Mughal buildings of Lahore Fort and Badshahi mosque - one of the world's largest - are must-sees; eat dinner on the terrace of the converted Haveli Cocco's Den for a floodlit bird's-eye view. However new Lahore, presents the vibrant, modern face of Pakistan.
Karakorum Highway opened in 1986 is often referred to be the highest road in the world, winding through the Karakorum mountain range and connecting to China through the Khunjerab Pass at an altitude of nearly 5000 meters. It is the only way to the tourist attractions of the Northern Areas, but negotiating its twists and bends around unprotected sheer drops is an adventure in its own right. The road connects many villages whose only sign of modernization is the sponsored paintwork of Pepsi and Nestle that decorate the shops
In the lush Hunza valley, the sleepy village of Karimabad is a tourist oasis. The street that winds up to the old Baltit fort is crammed with shops selling local handicrafts such as shawls and carpets, along with local dried fruit, antiques and gemstones. A four-hour trek along the irrigation channel that winds up through the village and hugs the rockface up the mountains will take you up to Ultar meadow, where a small makeshift campsite offers views of Ultar peak and glacier.
Lake Saiful Mulk is an alpine lake located at the northern end of the Kaghan Valley, near the town of Naran. At an altitude of 3,224 m (10,578 feet) above sea level it is amongst one of the highest lakes in Pakistan. A fairy tale called Saiful Muluk is the story of the prince of Persia who fell in love with a fairy princess at the lake. The impact of the lake beauty is of such extent that people believe that fairies come down to lake in full moon.