January 27, 2023

Pakistan’s Tourism: “The Hidden Treasure”

As a child, I was always fond of travelling and considered myself fortunate enough to be a Globetrotter (my friends had nicknamed me Marco Polo). I have travelled across the globe umpteen times visiting North up to Alaska, South to Australia (down under), most countries from Indonesia to Europe, and among other countries have also experienced the Safari at Kruger Park of South Africa.
As a student in Germany in the sixties, I have hitchhiked or travelled by road and rail and stayed at YMCA or at youth hostels. As I moved to Canada in early 1969 and prospered in my profession and business, I used to travel by plane (including the grounded Concord), took luxury cruises and have stayed in 5 Star hotels.
All during this time I was fascinated by the development of tourism in some other countries which were quite backward com- pared to Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan has never cashed on its tourism industry despite having some of the highest peak mountains, Glaciers, mighty rivers, beaches, deserts, wildlife, rich traditions/culture, ancient civilization, Historic battlegrounds, castles,Museums, Art Galleries, and religious sites of Saints and Sufis to name a few. I would like to mention that personally I have made two attempts in the past to promote tourism in Pakistan but failed both times. Here is what transpired.

  1. In 1971, I was travelling in Swat and was awestruck by its beauty. Accidently during this trip, I happened to meet with Badshah Sahib, a cousin of Wali-e-Swat, and mentioned my interest in developing Tourism in Swat by building affordable accommodation to attract young people from the West. I had earlier that year taken a road trip to Tehran with a few young Western friends and in particular had enjoyed the hospitality of the Afghan people, the natural beauty of the city of Kabul, the fresh fruits sold by vendors on the streets, the tasty Karahi lamb prepared on the Chip Truck in front of my eyes and the dry fruits sold on the pavement by the innocent children.
    Badshah sahib showed his interest towards my inspiration and agreed with my idea that Swat could also be developed as a tourist attraction. After a couple of lengthy meetings, he asked me to prepare a Business Plan. After my return to Karachi and by the time I had prepared the plan and gathered investors for the project, the Bangladesh war broke out and the entire scheme fizzled out.
  2. In 1997, during my tenure as the President of Canada-Pakistan Business Council, I took the Director of St. Lawrence College to Pakistan who was interested in offering courses on tourism. Unfortunately again, due to the dangerous law and order situation and Travel Advisory, this course couldn’t be offered.
    Now that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is hell-bent on developing and introducing tourism in Pakistan to the world tourists, here are some of my suggestions as food for thought for the Pakistani Government and the Hospitality industry:
    Tourism industry can be devel-oped by attracting both:
    a. local Pakistanis/Ex-Pats
    b. foreign tourists (They generally tend to spend more generously and will also bring foreign exchange).
    We know that all tourists want to take back good memories with them, so offering services more than their expectations will help promote tourism through their good word of mouth. The tourists also want to feel safe and secure, so good law and order situation is important. I would like to mention that I had once organized a Business delegation to Pakistan during General Musharraf’s tenure which included PIA’s Air Safari flight from Islamabad. During the entire hour and a half flight, I heard only Vow, Vow, over and over again. After almost 15 years, the delegates still talk about their wonderful experience.
    So let me categorize some Foreign tourists who can be targeted to visit Pakistan.
    1) Mountaineers. 2) Ski and other winter sportsmen 3) Golfers 4) Polo players 5) Nature lovers, including bird watchers 6) Religious and faith groups (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists etc.) 7) Historians, 8) Lovers of Art and Culture, 9) Youth and retirees. 10) Ex-Pats and their families.
    Suggestion for Action Plan:
    a. Prepare a user friendly Website that provides information for a comfortable and hassle-free visit showing the ttractive beautiful places, sightseeing and other attractions, cultural shows, sporting events shopping and recreation.
    b.Visas if possible should be provided upon arrival.
    c. Information Desk with knowledgeable staff should be available on hand to assist visitors.
    d. Money Exchange, ATM boothand telephone call facilities must beeasily accessible in the entire country.
    e. Porter should be available atfixed rates.
    f. Paid travel coupons for transportation should be available.
    g. Private Taxis, Limousine and other transportation should be available at a fair price.
    h. Clean drinking water and healthy food should be available for purchase at all entry points and tourist destinations.
    i. Clean toilet facilities should be accessible.
    j. If travelling in a group, the agent of the Travel agency should be present to receive and assist.
    k. It is also important to have a complaint centre so disputes may be resolved right then and there.
    Tourist Plan options can be divided into 3 Categories and hence the Tourism Promotion Bureau or travel agent must facilitate accordingly. Travel agents may offer packages to suit the customer’s need including Inland transportation for single or multiple cities or other destinations, prepaid tourist sightseeing with a guide, luxury transportation with all-inclusive prices for events, tipsPakistan’s Tourism: “The Hidden Treasure” etc. so there are no surprises or extra hidden costs.
    1.Travellers on thrifty Budget
    2.Travellers on moderate Budget
    3.Travellers on a Luxury budget For the thrifty budget travellers which may include students, accommodation facilities at Youth hostels, Camp Grounds, tent trailers with all kinds of amenities including shower, laundry facility, convenient store, nearby public transportation, gas station etc. should be available.
    For moderate travellers, availability of reasonable transportation, Guest Houses, cottages or other affordable rental accommodation should be available. For those travelling in Luxury, accommodation in 4-5 star hotels and comfortable transportation must be available. It is important to note that tourists can often get sick due to contaminated water, air pollution, or adulterated food and hence medical facilities and first aid should be easily accessible.
    Moreover, most foreigners like to relax in the evening by drinking wine or dancing which is something they take for granted, so it should be also given consideration with privacy in mind as done in Dubai or in some other Muslim countries.
    As Pakistan will be celebrating its Diamond Jubilee year in 2022, it would be a great opportunity for the Government of Pakistan to organize 2-3 days seminars in major cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. This event should be held with high powered overseas Pakistani professionals and businessmen who may interact and exchange ideas with the policy and decision-makers of the Government and the private sectors. The sessions could include speakers on the pressing needs and issues which Pakistan is facing. eg: A) controlling Population explosion, B) education, C) Healthcare, D) economy, E) law and order) F) agriculture, G) Water and sanitation, H) Alternate energy, I) transportation , J) environment, K) tourism and hospitality industry, L) empowering women, M) motivating youth, N) Artificial Intelligence etc. just to name a few.
    There are over five million overseas Pakistanis living abroad and a large number of them are quite well settled and have made their mark in the community as successful professionals and businessmen.
    They are more than willing to help Pakistan with their expertise. They should be identified and approached to attend at their own expenses for participating in the sessions as done in the Western World. There should be no free lunch and every participant must pay. I am confident that it would not be difficult to round up at least 500 delegates from around the world to attend, and whose visit will boost the local economy by millions of dollars. There are many businesses’, engineers’ and doctors’ organizations around the world who could be invited for the celebration.
    Please note, APPNA alone spends millions of dollars to organize their annual event in the USA and if approached by the Pakistani officials, they may possibly consider the idea of holding their 2022/23 annual event in Pakistan as part of the celebration.
    I can personally organize an 8-10 member delegation to motivate youth. To make the occasion attractive, the Government must organize cultural, sports and other entertainment shows throughout the year 2022-2023 as part of the festivity. If the overseas Pakistani event is successful, it should be made an annual event. Please note, India organizes an annual event in January for non-resident Indians which over the years has helped India’s economy grow through their contacts and expertise.
    Another Revenue Generation proposition is to start operating Special Excursion trains (Like Palace on Wheels in India, or Polar Bear Express and Canadian Rockies train in Canada), along with luxury buses, vans, private cars etc. throughout the country to various tourist destinations from all major cities. In case of travelling by train a choice should be available for booking the whole compartment for the entire party.
    Moreover, Countrywide tours should be offered to Scouts and Students (by inspiring them with the song from the fifties,”Aao Bacchon sair karaen tumko Pakistan ki”) as well as to Seniors and Retired Armed Forces Personnel at discounted rates.
    My last suggestion to the Government would be to invite the celebrities such as Bill Gates and other high profile personalities as well as the Heads of States, including His Highness Karim Aga Khan whose presence will bring many Ismailis from various corners of the globe.
    I would like to mention that on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee, both the Governments of India and Pakistan had invited the Governor General of Canada, H.E. Romeo LeBlanc, and as part of the distinguished guests, I also had the honour of accompanying the G.G. Delegation. The visit of G.G. gave a positive press in Canada resulting in follow up visits of High Powered Canadian businessmen and investors who saw great business opportunities and investment potential in Pakistan.
    It is to be noted that some years ago, Pakistani mangoes were not allowed entry into the United States. Even airline passangers carrying mangoes in their personal baggage were stopped by the U.S. Customs. It went on until the
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was served mangoes during her visit to Pakistan. When she said that she loved them, someone must have reminded her that the Americans were deprived of Pakistani mangoes. It was after her visit the U.S. lifted the ban on the import of mangoes from Pakistan.
    The increased volume in tourism will not only bring foreign exchange but create much-needed jobs as well. Pakistan only needs to look at Dubai, which about 20 years ago was known as a Smugglers Den, but is now considered as one of the biggest Tourist Hub. Pakistan has a lot more to offer and it is time to expose its hidden treasure.

The writer is a businessman and former president of the Canada-Pakistan Business Council. His Cell: 416-707-9811 Tel 905-763-8281.

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