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Time for Pakistan to revive its tourism industry

Waqar Mustafa
Filed on January 28, 2020

Country needs to have a framework to help the private sector gain confidence for a long-term investment.

It was a normal country I had grown up in. There were little restrictions, no red zones. I could secure my first visa to the United Kingdom in one and a half hour. I could drive my car into the UK embassy premises for submitting the visa application. I had flown British Airways then to join a fellowship in the UK. And the UK airline was not the only one operating in Pakistan. But that was before the watershed day of September 11, 2001.

Jetliners crashing into the World Trade Center in the US on September 11 rattled Pakistan. Washington blamed Taleban-controlled Kabul for sheltering the terrorists and financiers responsible for launching the attacks. Its response led to years of war and conflict in neighbouring Pakistan. International presence in Pakistan shrunk. World businesses, including airlines, shut shops. Advisories were issued by different countries to travellers on avoiding a voyage to Pakistan. Pakistan's economy sustained a colossal loss of $252 billion - 93 per cent of the size of the country's economy - owing to the US-led war against terrorism which is nearly eight times more than the financial assistance given by Washington to Islamabad, says economist Dr Hafiz Pasha in his book titled Growth and Inequality - Agenda for Reforms.

Pakistan has acted sternly against militant groups operating on its soil. And things are on the mend. Last week, the UK changed its travel advice to reflect the improved security situation in Pakistan. A press release from the British High Commission in Islamabad said, improved security situation has allowed for the return of British Airways to Pakistan in June 2019 and the visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in October 2019.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter to appreciate the decision. "This is great news as it will address two most important econ[omic] issues facing Pak today: employment & our current account deficit, by bringing in tourism & investment which in turn will provide employment opportunities, esp[ecially] for our youth."

The United Nations, too, ended Pakistan's status as a 'non-family' duty station for UN personnel. Ambassadors of France and Germany have hinted at softening their travel advisory for Pakistan, too. The US has also assured Pakistan that it will soften its travel advisory, enabling Islamabad to attract foreign investors. Earlier, American journal Forbes had included Pakistan among one of the 10 favourite countries for tourism in 2020. Conde Nast Traveler ranked Pakistan as the number one holiday destination in 2020, acknowledging the improved security, visa relaxation policies, and its beauty. Pakistan is also among the world's top 10 business climate improvers, according to the World Bank's Doing Business 2020 study.

But there still is a long way to go. Pakistan needs to promote destinations and enhance the level of services and activities offered there to create customer and investor confidence. The country needs to have a framework to help the private sector gain confidence for a long-term investment. It also requires consolidation and improvement of peace and business climate to encourage tourists and investors to come to Pakistan in a big way - without any hurdle or fear.

Waqar Mustafa is a Pakistan-based journalist and commentator


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