Pakistan's tourism industry makes headway amid COVID-19 challenges
by Raheela Nazir
Pakistan is endowed with a myriad of natural wonders as well as historical and religious tourist sites that attract a large number of both local and foreign tourists every year.
However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic direly affected Pakistan's tourism sector in 2020. Despite the limited inflow of tourists from abroad owing to pandemic-related travel restrictions, local tourists have boosted the local tourism industry this year.
Pakistani experts and government officials believe that as Pakistan has a huge potential for tourism, all-out efforts should be made to further ramp up the thriving tourism sector and attract not only local tourists but also people from all over the world once the pandemic subsides.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the promotion of tourism in the country is one of his government's top priorities to generate revenue and job opportunities.
"The promotion of tourism will not only create economic activity in the local areas, but will also have a positive impact on the national economy," the prime minister said recently.
In 2019, the total contribution of travel and tourism to Pakistan's gross domestic product (GDP) was 5.7 percent, Managing Director of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) Aftab-ur-Rehman Rana told Xinhua, adding that in 2020 when the pandemic hit the world, the total contribution to the country's GDP decreased to 4.4 percent, cutting down a large number of employments.
In a conversation with Xinhua, Latif-ur-Rehman, spokesperson for Culture, Sports, Tourism, Archaeology and Youth Affairs Department of Pakistan's northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province said that last year, the tourism industry of Pakistan suffered as most of the tourist places were closed due to coronavirus-induced fears and restrictions.
He said in 2020, COVID-19 caused losses of more than 10 billion rupees on the tourism industry of KP when a number of businesses associated with tourism were left paralyzed.
"With some relaxation in restrictions recently, a huge influx of tourists is being witnessed in the country's northern areas and KP province," he said, adding that both of the regions are center-point of domestic tourism from May to October and are immensely popular among the nature-lovers and adventure seekers thanks to the world's highest peaks, glaciers and scenic views in the regions.
Rehman said that the number of tourists has overwhelmingly increased since the onset of summer which led to the shortage of accommodation, forcing many to stay in makeshift shelters, tents and houses of local people.
More than 65 billion rupees of business activities were generated by the tourists in the province from May to July, he said, adding that the activities also generated job opportunities for locals in these areas.
During the recent Eid al-Adha holidays in Pakistan, more than 3 million tourists flocked to tourist destinations in KP including Naran, Kaghan, Kalam, Swat and Chitral, he said.
Saleem Rehman, a member of Pakistan's National Assembly or the lower house of the parliament, said that the improvement of road infrastructure under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has also played a vital role in unlocking the enormous potential of tourism in Pakistan.
The Karakoram Highway (KKH) Phase Two project from Havelian to Thakot under the CPEC greatly improved the access to the most sought-after tourism spots of KP and northern areas of the country, the lawmaker told Xinhua.
"The traveling to these areas was not easy before the completion of these new avenues. Tourists influx was not according to the potential the areas have... However, this summer the inflow of local visitors was quite high," he said.
Rana, managing director of the PTDC, said that the notable surge in domestic tourists is due to the government's prudent tourist-friendly policies.
Rana said that the government has been taking a keen interest in promoting the culture of tourism in the country and adopting measures to revamp the infrastructure and ensure all the required facilities for the tourists.
"More destinations are being identified and developed, historic and religious places are being refurbished and preserved, roads and motorways leading to tourist destinations are being built, and new hotels and accommodations are being set up," he said, adding that the country is also providing online visa services to foreign tourists.
"Once the COVID-19 situation normalizes, Pakistan is expected to receive more foreign visitors too," Rana told Xinhua.
Both federal and provincial governments must take extraordinary measures and make comprehensive strategies to further improve the tourism sector and make it more attractive, especially for foreign tourists to earn valuable foreign exchange while rebranding Pakistan on the world stage, Rana said. (100 Pakistan Rupees equals 0.61 U.S. dollars)