Tourism has become a popular global leisure activity. In 2011, there were over 983 million international tourist arrivals worldwide, representing a growth of 4.6% when compared to 940 million in 2010. International tourism receipts grew to US$1.03 trillion (€740 billion) in 2011, corresponding to an increase in real terms of 3.8% from 2010. In 2011, international travel demand continued to recover from the losses resulting from the late 2000 recessions, where tourism suffered a strong slowdown from the second half of 2008 through the end of 2009. After a 5% increase in the first half of 2008, growth in international tourist arrivals moved into the negative territory in the second half of 2008, and ended up only 2% for the year, compared to a 7% increase in 2007. The negative trend intensified during 2009, exacerbated in some countries due to the outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus, resulting in a worldwide decline of 4.2% in 2009 to 880 million international tourists arrivals, and a 5.7% decline in international tourism receipts.
Tourism is important, and in some cases, vital for many countries. It is an activity essential to the life of nations because of its direct effects on the social, cultural, educational, and economic sectors of national societies and on their international relations. Tourism brings in large amounts of income in payment for goods and services available, accounting for 30% of the world’s exports of services, and 6% of overall exports of goods and services. It also creates opportunities for employment in the service sector, especially jobs associated with tourism. These service industries include transportation services, such as airlines, cruise ships, taxi cabs, hotels, and resorts, as well as entertainment venues, such as amusement parks, casinos shopping malls, music venues, and theatres.
Pakistan is a country which is enriched with natural beauty and resources like beaches, rain forests, mountains, rivers, valleys, and deserts. Rich in culture and heritage, the northern areas of Pakistan are spread over 72,496 square kilometers and are as fascinating as its southern region. Amidst towering snow-clad peaks with heights varying from 1,000 meters to over 8,000 meters, the valleys of Gilgit, Hunza, and Skardu recall Shangri-la. The cultural patterns in this region are as interesting as its topography.
The people with typical costumes, folk dances, music, and sports like polo and buzkashi, provide the traveler an unforgettable experience. Nowhere in the world is there such a great concentration of high mountains, peaks, glaciers, and passes except Pakistan. Of the 14 over 8,000 peaks on Earth, 4 occupy an amphitheater at the head of Baltoro glacier in the Karakoram range. These are: K-2 (8,611 meters, world’s second highest), Broad Peak (8,047 meters), Gasherbrum I (8,068 meters), and Gasherbrum II (8,035 meters). There is yet another which is equally great, and that is Nanga Parbat (8,126 meters) at the western-most end of the Himalayas. In addition to that, there are 68 peaks over 7,000 meters and hundreds which are over 6,000 meters. Northern Pakistan has some of the longest glaciers outside the polar region: Siachen (72 kilometers), Hispar (61 kilometers), Biafo (60 kilometers), Baltoro (60 kilometers), Batura (64 kilometers), Yenguta (35 kilometers), Chiantar (34 kilometers), Trich (29 kilometers), and Atrak (28 kilometers).
The lower Himalayan valleys of Swat, Kagha,n and Chitral in the Hindukush range equally share the beauty and diverse culture of Northern Pakistan.
Pakistan is a country that is facing its worst conditions ever regarding its tourism industry. First, it was the great tragedy of 9/11 that dented the tourism industry, and then in 2005, a horrific earthquake collapsed the total tourism infrastructure. This was followed by the Taliban capturing the beautiful Swat Valley. These disasters were followed by year 2010 bringing the floods that wreaked havoc with the entire tourism sector. Now, there is no tourism ministry left in Pakistan, and no tourism ministry means no tourism department and no tourism minister.
Such a situation has sent a very negative image of Pakistan around the world, because when other countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal went through law and order situations, these countries increased publicity and the promotion budget of the tourism industry and recovered from downward trends.
The Federal Ministry of Tourism was abolished under the constitutional requirement that ensures transfer of the tourism ministry to the provinces. This decision should have been followed by a National Board to look after publicity and promotion of Pakistan abroad and registration with international tourism organizations. However, it has not been done, and responsibilities of the former Ministry of Tourism (MoT) have been distributed among many different federal ministries without any focal authority to look into the affairs.
The Ministry of Tourism is not fully empowered to tackle the problems of tourists and tourist enterprises because of assigning of most of these responsibilities to other ministries/divisions. The Ministry was not computerized until 2005, and was working with outdated procedures and work methods. Internal sources, on the promise of confidentiality, informed that work output and accomplishments is hampered by considerable impediments ranging from administrative bureaucracy, lack of modern-day computer technology, lack of funds, lack of experience and professional knowledge, lack of facilities, short working hours, and general lethargy. The deficiencies in all departments and lack of funding have had serious implications in the effective management of the tourism sector so far. It has never been a source of effective and meaningful data, and has no worthwhile tourism survey to its credit.
Beside the government being responsible for the tourism downfall in Pakistan, other factors like lack of education and awareness; poor infrastructure; lack of medical facilities; and above all, insecure environment and the poor law-and-order situation, are the major factors which have played strong roles in declaring Pakistan a lonely planet.
In this situation, it is strongly recommended that the international tourism organizations should formulate a tourism board working under them in Pakistan, which will look after the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, Pakistan Tours Limited, and will also be responsible for international memberships, and arranging tourism conferences and seminars worldwide for the publicity of Pakistan as a tourism destination.
The author, Ayesha Wattoo of Pakistan, posted this article as a friend of the media for the International Council of Tourism Partners to the ICTP member forum ( www.tourismpartners.org ). The author also represents the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).