“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page”, is said by a 5th century traveler. Traveling teaches toleration and those who travel in young age get education while those who travel in senior age receive the experience. Traveling is as significant as to educate yourself as Prophet Muhammad (SAWW) once said, “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled”. Unfortunately, our beloved countrymen are too far away knowing the true essence of traveling but things are getting better with the passage of time.
Global tourism industry is at its boom now a days and states are investing in developing responsible tourism which is providing great advantage to the host countries. The developing country like Pakistan, needs to focus on the responsible and sustainable tourism as it helps countries to create jobs, reduce migration from rural to urban areas, preserve culture and natural resources and celebrate authenticity as Pakistan surely has its distinct tourism assets which could be marketed to gain maximum social and economic benefits.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), last year, revenue from tourism contributed around $19.4 billion to Pakistan’s economy and made up 6.9 percent of gross domestic product. The WTTC expects that amount to rise to $36.1 billion within a decade. This is a remarkable increase in the tourism sector of Pakistan but is still lacking to reach true potential of this industry.
Cape town Declaration of 2002 defines responsible tourism as “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” To fulfill this requirement the role of government along with the private partners like businessman, hotel managers, operators and locals of the area is significant. Branding tourists’ destinations is what is the need of the hour.
Current government of Pakistan is taking several steps for upgrading the tourist industry which includes the landmark decision of allowing foreigners to travel to areas of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan without special permission. These kinds of initiatives will help local tourism to flourish and will provide with the opportunity for locals to be
economically viable. Areas like Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan are under explored though they have huge potential for this sector. The sites offer a great zeal to travelers and the peaceful environment with scenic beauty, lush green fields and flowing streams are worthy of repeated visits.
Khyber Pukhtoon khawa government has done great deal to promote tourism in its province so has the Punjab government. Baluchistan government had passed the tourism policy in 2014 but has yet to be implemented. AJK government also has worked on the tourism policy and has paid attention to improve the sector. According to AJK government, in 2015, 5 lac domestic tourists visited to Neelam valley only. This is a great number. The need of the hour is that the tourism policy must be implemented by the provincial governments on their level and special conferences, adventure clubs and seminars should focus on attracting the travelers.
The foremost thing for enduring tourism is to ensure security in the country as peace and tourism is directly proportional to each other. Luckily, the security situation has improved to a greater deal. To achieve the goals, i.e.: soft image of Pakistan, economic development of the country and exploring the unexplored: consistency is necessary, and a state policy must be implemented for responsible and sustained tourism. Hence, few recommendations are to be put forth, keeping in view the international guidelines for responsible tourism which may help policy making circles in future for their consideration;
a) Train locals of the potential sites for proper hospitality guidelines.
b) Encourage participation of locals while drafting policy for a region.
c) Regulate and offer incentives for participatory tourism.
d) Organize workshops for foreign travelers so they may be aware of the culture of different regions they are intending to visit.
e) Propagate positive imagery of the targeted destinations through media (print, electronic, broadcast and social networking sites).
f) Engage international recognized travelers to visit targeted sites which will help attracting foreign tourists.
g) Draft special environmental policy for distinct tourist zones.
h) Make it convenient for physically disable people to travel to tourist sites.
i) Develop Religious tourism as it can be a great source of attraction for religious civilizations as Pakistan is the host to different holy cultures including Sikhism, Buddhism and Hindu religion.
In conclusion, for sustainable and responsible tourism, we must develop a culture of being a traveler rather than being a tourist. The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. A good tourist is a great traveler and his travel is never planned. To reach this level of tourism culture there comes the significance of the tour operators, civil society and other non-governmental organizations. Dedication, courage and most importantly consistency is the key to achieve the goal of responsible tourism. Government of Pakistan should put in great effort to take the share of this industry to maximum level in its GDP as it has the potential to be one of the greatest sectors contributing to economic development as well as crafting social and religious harmony in the country.
The writer is an MPhil graduate in International Relations who’s currently a visiting lecturer at International Islamic University, Islamabad.