ISLAMABAD: Despite the fact of having multi-billion tourism potential, particularly religious tourism, Pakistan is yet to translate this potential into defeating the current worsening economic crisis.
Nations across the globe are earning billions of dollars annually from the tourism sector, while Pakistan is still struggling to fully tap the tourist heavens spread all over and religious touris, potential. Pakistan is capable to turning its tourist potential into multi-billion dollar earning government as well as for people across the country. But still a minimal number of tourists visiting the country despite its uncountable bounties.
An amalgamation of the scenic beauty of gigantic mountain ranges, vast plains, soothing lakes, gushing rivers, enchanting coastline, calm deserts and religio-historic monuments, the country hosts socio-cultural relics gathered from knowledge and experience of invaders, rulers, historians, communities and anthropologists.
Diversified in cultures and cuisines, the country also boasts of noble traditions of hospitality, brotherhood, and religious harmony encompassing Buddha, Gandhara, Indus, Mughals, Sikhs and other civilizations in its architecture, attire and abodes.
It is geographically unique with archaeological heritage, spiritual and cultural sites providing ample tourism opportunities for nature lovers and followers of different religions. Thus one can judiciously claim that Pakistan’s tourism industry holds limitless untapped potential.
Taking the example of Punjab province, this region owns ancient cities of Taxila and Harrapa, the glaring sites of Muslim spiritualism, Sikhs and Hindus temples, ancient archaeological remains and Khewra mines where the forces of Alexander the Great were believed to be staying during expedition of sub-continent.
“Our region is rich in culture and diversity with vast tourism potential. We can earn billions of dollars by promoting this sector,” said Managing Director Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) Agha Mohammad Ali Abbas.
“Since, our tourism potential is unknown to most of the world, we are focusing on projecting it through digital media,” Ali Abbas said. “To promote digital and eco-tourism, we have inaugurated around 176 rest houses at tourist destinations for visitors to book through on-line facility.”
He said besides traditional historic and religious tourism, TDCP is developing ‘Tourism Zones’ in Salt Range, Khushab, Mianwali and Chakwal districts besides new destinations like Kotli Sattian, Jhelum, Soan Valley, Attock in Rawalpindi region, Fort Munro and Koh-e-Suleman in Dera Ghazi Khan and sites in Bahawalpur and Multan regions.
“Our Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally and Cultural Festival gets international attraction. Therefore, besides 18th rally in February this year, we are also adding to it features like Dirt Bike Race, Camel Race, cultural performance and Para-Gliding show,” he informed.
“Cholistan Desert Rally is running successfully since 2005 having nine categories of motorsports including a bike race participated every year, by over 100 famous drivers,” he said.
As most of the world’s population is follower of a particular religion, therefore pilgrims of every religion visit their holy places every year and Punjab has vast potential of tourism for Sikh, Budhha and Hindu pilgrims.
In this context, Gurdwaras Janam Asthan, Panja sahib and Kartarpur bear pivotal importance for followers of the Sikh religion besides Gurdwaras Tambu Sahib, Maulvi Patti sahib, Kaira Sahib and Nahang, the birthplace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Then there are temples of Katasraj, in Chakwal district and number of others in Sindh, having much importance for Hindu pilgrims.
Similarly, shrines of Muslim Sufi practitioners also present ample bounties of tourism for Punjab in the form of Hazrat Ali Hajveri, Hazrat Fareed-ud-Din Ganj Shakar, Hazrat Bahauddin Zakariya, Sultan Bahu, Bullay Shah and a number of other saints and religious scholars.
One can also not keep oblivious to historic heritage of great Mughals and other rulers of the sub-continent hailing from Central Asia that offer great tourism potential. To experience Mughal heritage and architecture, a visit to Lahore Walled City is a must as the New York Times picked the city as one of the top places to visit in 2021.
Punjab province can also earn billions through religious tourism as mentioned in a recently issued Economic Report, pointing out Sikh tourism potential of around US $ 34 million besides creating 85,000 jobs and Buddhist tourism around US $ 17 million and around 35,000 jobs.
The Punjab Growth Strategy (PGS)-2023 report also observed that the province can annually earn around US $ two billion from international tourism and US$ one billion from domestic tourism besides generating 250,000 jobs.
“In recent years, 5.9 per cent of the country’s GDP was attributed to tourism that helped create nearly four million jobs,” said Malik Jawwad Khan a private tour operator.
“Within the first quarter of 2020, tourism was poised to break all previous records even though the world was struck by the Covid-19,” Jawwad said.
Usman Qureshi, the editor of monthly magazine, ‘Explore Punjab’ said Punjab has a wide range of natural places as he mentioned to desert tourism in Cholistan and Thal, Uchhali Complex of Khushab district, historic forts like Lahore Fort, Derawar Fort, Rawat Fort, Rohtas Fort, Fort Manro and a number of others at different destinations.
“Punjab has multi-billion-dollar tourism potential due to its rich heritage if this potential is fully tapped,” Usman said.
MPA Sajid Bhatti also underlined the need for transforming the present TDCP structure to make it an investment mobilization, marketing and promotion arm of the Tourism Department.
“TDCP should promote Public Private Partnership (PPP) and offer incentive package to promote domestic and international private investment,” Bhatti proposed.
As Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) forecast earnings of around Rs.793 billion from tourism during fiscal 2022-23 and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates tourism potential of an estimated $40 billion within a decade, there is dire need to fully focus this sector for achieving desired goals.