Atif Sharif Mian
Abstract: The travel and tourism industry has emerged as the engine of global economic and employment growth contributing a hefty US$8.9 trillion or 10.3% to the global GDP and supporting 310 million jobs while earning US$1.5 trillion in tourism exports. Pakistan is blessed with rich tourist attractions including diverse enticing landscape as well as archaeological, religious and cultural heritage. However, due to wars in Afghanistan spilling over into Pakistan and conflict with India as well as the government’s disinterest, the tourism sector remains underdeveloped with a subpar growth. These issues are also reflected in Pakistan’s dismal ranking (122nd. position) in the global competitiveness ranking. Over the last few years, the confluence of propitious developments — eradication of violent extremism, infrastructure upgradation under CPEC and Government’s prioritization of the sector— has catapulted the tourism sector on a growth trajectory. Over the last 2-3 years, foreign tourism arrivals have scaled to nearly 1 million while the total contribution to GDP reached US$ 16.7 billion last year. This paper found that the right policies for tourism could earn US$ 27.5 billion for Pakistan while foreign tourist arrivals can also increase manyfold. The Federal government has taken bold initiatives to revamp the tourism sector by restructuring and empowering PTDC, constituting the National Tourism Coordination Board and introducing a comprehensive and well-designed National Tourism Strategy (NTS) to direct the revival of the tourism industry. To date, Pakistan has earned fabulous reviews and ratings by global tourism publications such as Conde’s Nest, Forbes and British Backpackers Society and Pakistan finally seems to be making its mark on the global tourism radar. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Pakistan’s tourism industry like a bolt from the blue leading to the closure of multiple businesses and job losses. However, the quick containment of the virus and government’s financial support has somewhat softened the pandemic’s impact on the tourism industry. The partial recovery of the tourism industry can be achieved by adopting safety SOPs, focusing on sustainable tourism and encouraging domestic and youth tourism. Eventually, the tourism sector will recover to a large extent in the latter half of 2021 once vaccine is widely available. In the meanwhile, Pakistan tourism authorities seem unfazed and continue to diligently implement the National Tourism Strategy and lay down the spadework for reaping benefits of the global tourism recovery. This paper while taking note of suggestions in NTS has made recommendations that are in line with global best practices which will help complement NTS and catalyse the revival of the tourism industry. Notable suggestions include identifying priority tourism sectors and matching them with target markets, developing an umbrella marketing campaign with a tagline such as “Wonderful Pakistan”, as well as improving infrastructure such as access roads, airport and transport services, accommodation, recreation and sports facilities. Regular training courses to enhance the capability of the public sector who will be agents of change is also essential. Upgradation of training institutes through foreign collaborations, syllabus modernisation, inclusion of Work-Based Learning and the induction of foreign qualified faculty will go a long way in improving human resource deficiency. A customised PPP Framework to suit the needs of the tourism sector along with a well-incentivised investment policy offering favourable predictable tax policy, easy dispute resolution, one-stop approvals and easy credit facilities. Pakistan’s tourism authorities also need to establish a tourism database to record all tourist arrivals which will help in tourism management, planning and investment. The country also needs to embrace digital technology to showcase its tourism potential and attract foreign tourists. Lastly, enduring success in reviving the tourism industry will need a sustained focus and committed long-term approach from the federal and provincial governments.
Keywords: Tourism industry, Post-COVID-19 scenarios, Pakistan