I would like to shed some light on Pakistan’s domestic tourism industry. After the extensive four-decade battle against terrorism in Pakistan, domestic tourism industry besides other industries restores its breath
in a country. Majority countries who stated Pakistan as a terrorist state are now declaring Pakistan as the best holiday destination for 2019. Even Pakistan topped Forbes and Conde Nast Traveller’s list of best holiday destinations for 2020.
The stable security situation, road improvements (extension of KKH and motorways under CPEC project), and intense promotional campaigns at national and international levels (by including famous vloggers and bloggers and social media activities) contributed constructively to the growth in tourism.
However, visit of the royal couple Prince William and Kate Middleton (UK), the maiden visit of the Buddhist Monks, and visit of thousands of Sikh pilgrims to Nankana Sahib birthplace through Kartarpur Corridor on his 550th anniversary attracted the international media attention. After the announcement of online visa facilities, millions of tourists including domestic tourists visited different places of Pakistan.
Even Balochistan and Waziristan received special attention of worldwide famous vloggers and bloggers.
Unfortunately by the end of Jan 2020, coronavirus pandemic changed the situation of the entire world. Focus on forced lockdown, staying at home, social distancing, and self-imposed quarantine affected social, economical and educational development badly and significantly.
Tourism is one of the global economic sectors severely affected by coronavirus pandemic. Pakistan’s tourism and transportation sectors are also affected poorly as flights, markets, public places,schools , centres, restaurants and hotels closed, as well as the economic crisis going on especially for poor, daily wagers, or who involved in low salary employments. In major cities, hotels are transformed into quarantine centres for abroad returned Pakistanis with positive cases of COVID-19 whereas mostly restaurants are now doing home delivery or takeaways.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of international tourists cancelled their reservations and bookings. This has had a negative impact on the tourism community, particularly porters, tour guides, street vendors, – all those who rely on tourist spending are suffering and affecting now. In this pandemic situation, the exact number of affectee/sufferers is uncertain. As an Admin of an active social group, the Karakoram Club, the concerns of all those who are associated with this tourism and affiliated sectors
cannot be overlooked, “Over 1.5 million domestic tourists visit G-B, in these months; and 1.2 million visit places like Swat, Peshawar, Chitral, Abbottabad etc., annually. Imagine the impact these regions will feel without this form of income generation.”
Adding that 90% of the citizens of G-B were opposed to outsiders visiting their region at this time of the pandemic.
New coronavirus cases and deaths, however, are on the rise. As of May 20, the country had registered more than 45,000 coronavirus cases. COVID-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus infection, has killed nearly 1,000 people.
GOVERNMENT’ S DEFENCE:
Tourism is a focused area of the present government. Several initiatives are being undertaken to garner the potential offered by the tourism industry. To evolve coordination with provinces, federal ministries, and private actors, facilitate in the development of policies, strategies, framework, etc, to market and promote tourism potentials nationally and internationally; and volume building for the provision of status human resource, the Government has make up the National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB).
The general secretary stated that TDCP pays its staff out of the income it generates and no funds are taken from the government, however, under the present circumstances, it is difficult to pay the staff as the tourism industry had been closed. He pleaded that the provincial government should provide Rs150,000,000 for the staff’s salaries.
Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced last week to lift restrictions on the tourism sector after consultation with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) governments in a bid to revive economy for the local populace, but the administrations of these federating units are yet not willing to implement the instructions.
Both KP and GB offer numerous tourist attractions including glaciers, lakes, forests and world’s highest peaks. Thousands of foreigners visit the area each year to climb up the Himalayan peaks and savor the rich culture.
On the condition of anonymity, an employee of TDCP told this scribe that although the government made plans for the betterment of the organisation, they were never materialised.
The prime minister pointed out that the warm months were important for those whose livelihoods are linked to tourism and feared a continued closure could lead to more joblessness.
As coronavirus infections in the country spiked and fatalities increased following a relaxation of the lockdown on 9 May, many were expecting an imposition of a stricter lockdown. In fact, two weeks before the government had eased the lockdown, the Punjab health department had warned of an
unprecedented spike in the rate of infections in Lahore alone.
In light of these apprehensions, this decision to further open tourism has raised eyebrows. Some have termed it “crazy” and “insane”.