ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s “untouched” beauty would be ruined if tourism was not regulated, Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday, cautioning that appropriate laws had to be implemented once Pakistan fully opened its tourist sector.
Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a new visa policy, saying citizens of 175 countries would be able to apply for online visas.
Stressing the need for tapping into the ample tourism potential in the country, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday, April 3, while addressing the concluding session of Pakistan travel summit, which was organized by Ali Hamdani, CEO, Landmark communications, directed the authorities concerned to formulate effective laws to protect “untouched” scenic beauty. The summit was also attended by several foreign travel writers and all senior stakeholders of travel, tourism, aviation, hospitality sector of Pakistan.
“The diversity with which Pakistan is blessed cannot be found anywhere else in the world,” the prime minister said, adding that “undiscovered areas,” particularly in Balochistan and the northern areas of the country, could help attract domestic and international tourists.
“Many parts of Pakistan are still untouched and this is our beauty,” the prime minister said, “A whole combination of tourism, including a wide-range of wildlife, is available in Pakistan.”
“Tourism will help us reduce poverty and generate employment,” he added.
The prime minister said that the northern areas of the country have over a hundred sites with untapped potential, adding that the government had announced a new visa regime under which foreign tourists now do not need a no-objection certificate to visit any site.
The Prime Minister was of the view that Pakistan is one of the most beautiful lands on Earth, and still has virgin places offering explorers exceptional adventures.
His view of developing tourism is based on his view that the role of the state is to facilitate tourists by providing them infrastructure and security, and the rest should be done by private sector.
He stated that his government has opened its first International Information Tourist Corner in Brussels to introduce Pakistan as a tourism destination where tourists can get information about its unique culture, exceptional natural beauty of its northern areas, and the traditional lifestyle of its mountain people.
Emphasising the need to protect the culture and traditions of local people at tourism sites though, Mr. Khan also maintained that “if tourists disrespect the local customs of the tribal areas, the reaction that would follow would negatively impact tourism”.
He promised that many tribal areas of the erstwhile FATA will attract many visitors when they are opened up for tourism.
Citing personal travel experiences in Pakistan over the course of his life, the prime minister referred to the country’s tourism potential as “unmatched”, adding that the industry had great potential to generate income, employment and alleviate poverty. “No other sector in Pakistan offers returns on investment as much as tourism,” he said, pointing out that visitors could not find places in hotels to stay at during the peak season in the northern areas.
The moves are part of a larger plan to revive Pakistan’s tourism industry, devastated by militant violence after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
Pakistan was last a prominent tourist destination in the 1970s when the “hippie trail” brought Western travellers through the apricot and walnut orchards of the Swat Valley and Kashmir on their way to India and Nepal.
Since then, deteriorating security and the imposition of a harsh interpretation of Islamic laws, particularly in the country’s northwestern belt, have chipped away at the number of visitors. But law and order has improved dramatically in recent years, with militant attacks down sharply in the mainly Muslim country of 208 million people.
Khan said he was also planning to open the country’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, long racked by militancy, to tourism. However, he cautioned that tourists would have to be mindful of the cultural sensitivities of the deeply conservative tribal belt.