WRITTEN BY CH. FAISAL MEHMOOD
International tourist arrivals grew 6% in 2018, totalling 1.4 billion according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. UNWTO’s long term forecast issued in 2010 indicated the 1.4 billion mark would be reached in 2020, yet the remarkable growth of international arrivals in recent years has brought it two years ahead. International tourist arrivals up 6% in 2018
The growth of tourism in recent years confirms that the sector is today one of the most powerful drivers of economic growth and development.
International tourist arrivals in Europe reached 713 million in 2018, Asia and the Pacific (+6%) recorded 343 million international tourist arrivals in 2018. Arrivals in South-East Asia grew 7%, followed by North-East Asia (+6%).
Yet none of this growth and benefits attached with it extended to Pakistan, nor did any of the benefits derived from such growth spill over to our country. So there need to be serious initiatives taken in tourism ministries, which, after the passing of the 18th amendment, are relegated to the provinces.
The Punjab government, which seems to be taking some actions upon bringing progress and cover the tourism opportunities we have lost. The Punjab cabinet, in its 15thmeeting approved the first Punjab Tourism Policy, which aims to make Punjab an attractive tourist destination and usher in economic growth from tourism in these designated areas.
Doubtlessly if there was any province which ought to have taken the lead, it was Punjab. Being a province of diversity, blended cultures and historical sites, as well as the most populated region having emerging middle class which carries the bulk of the national economy, security and tourism in Punjab will translate to more tourism in all other provinces, and bolster economic success and domestic tourism in the whole of Pakistan. Thus, it was essential that in order to facilitate tourism in all parts of the country, special attention needed to be paid to Punjab. The fact that this area was neglected is seen in that this is the first ever Punjab Tourism Policy- while there has been continuous talks of a policy, it has usually been left to drafts and never approved formally by the cabinet.
The new policy approved is comprehensive and brings in many new and innovative ideas, which if implemented properly, could lead to progress. The most notable feature is the policy’s focus on environment friendly tourism- the government plans to develop and sell its landscape heritage and archaeological assets – without disturbing socio-ecological balance in close collaboration with private sector. This was a necessary clarification since the Punjab government has run into deadlocks before due to environment concerns, seen by the long delay of the Orange Line Project. Secondly, exclusive to Punjab and its unique history, the government plans to tap in potential for religious tourism, which would mean developing and preserving religious sites of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Islam.
As Per our information, the policy seems strong and comprehensive; however, the difficult task is implementation and maintaining the momentum for change. While the tourism department has agreed to formulate a detailed implementation plan, mix-ups in the department, particularly that of the Tourism Minister, who has recently been removed, are not good omens of things to come.