Spirits up but numbers down in Pakistan


Terrorism and a law and order problem in Pakistan is negatively impacting the country’s tourism industry, which has seen a drop in tourist numbers.
For the first five months of the year, the country welcomed 324,000 tourists, a decline of 3.9 per cent over 2007.
In 2006, some 898,000 tourists made their way to the country, and last year’s figures came in at six per cent below that, despite 2007 being declared Visit Pakistan Year. This contrasts with projections by the World Travel and Tourism Council, which estimates industry growth at 4.9 per cent in 2008.
However, with growth expected to remain constant at about 4.7 per cent per year over the next decade, the country has much to look forward to.
The country has said it wants to cross the one million mark for incoming foreign tourists this year. Should that target be achieved, it will bring some $350 million in revenue. In 2007, the country earned $276.1 million through tourism.
Pakistan is committed to improving law and order, according to July reports quoting prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani. “Law and order and economic development are interlinked. If there is no law and order there will be no economic development,” he was quoted as saying.
Particularly badly hit has been the northwest Frontier Province, with only a handful of foreign tourists visiting the once popular ancient city of Peshawar in May and June. “Only 14 foreign tourists visited the museum in May and June, two busiest tourist months,” directorate of Archeology and Museums deputy director Qazi Ijaz Ahmed told the local newspaper Daily Times, adding that one could not promote tourism if there was no peace.
The northwestern Swat Valley, which until last year was popular for its Buddhist ruins, golf course and the country’s only ski resort, is another case in point – tourist numbers have sharply declined with continued militant violence over the last year.
But like former tourism minister Nilofer Bakhtiar has said, “What’s the fault of our rivers, mountains and blossoming flowers, if we are having trouble with terrorism? Lebanon and Sri Lanka have not abandoned attracting tourists, why should we?”
The country has been reaching out across the border to Indian tourists, with the resumption of flights and train services between the two neighbours, which have both agreed to ease visa rules for the other’s citizens. After promoting the country’s Hindu and Buddhist sites, experts now believe Pakistan can earn up to $500 million annually by promoting Sikh religious tourism.
Pakistan can also be a big draw for Arab tourists looking for a holiday in line with their Islamic values.
Besides law and order, much more needs to be done if Pakistan is to become a tourism tiger. While millions in investment and rising tourism revenues have expanded employment in the tourism industry from about 320,000 in 1998 to 600,000 today, the south Asian nation is only placed at 103 from 124 countries worldwide in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2008. The rank underlined a weak travel and tourism regulatory framework, low prioritisation of the industry by the government, poor tourism infrastructure, low effectiveness of marketing and branding, and a constricted tourism perception.
And yet, the country has much to offer tourists. 
by Clark Kelly