Byline: Shabbir Kazmi
Reportedly, tourism has grown faster than the global economy for the eighth consecutive year. It is estimated that more than a billion people travel internationally, with around half of these journeys destined to developing countries. Pakistan is uniquely placed to take advantage of this trend as travellers can experience the historical heritage of one of the oldest civilizations in the world, worship at the rich collection of Sufi shrines, Hindu temples, Sikh gurdawaras and Buddhist monasteries, scale some of the highest mountains in the world, or simply experience natural beauty ranging from blossoming trees against a backdrop of snow-clad peaks in Gilgit-Baltistan to pristine beaches in Gwadar. Despite a wealth of tourist attractions, Pakistan's tourism sector trails far behind that of India, Turkey, Sri Lanka and the region in general.
Tourism Development Corporation of Pakistan (TDCP) has identified nearly 500 sites. Out of these, 106 are of historical importance, 120 religious and a further 26 of both religious and historical importance. Assuming a modest average spending of Rs200 per trip per person and using TDCP data on the number of visits to each site, revenue generation through these domestic visits are estimated more than Rs50 billion per year - two-thirds of what international tourists spend in Pakistan each year. With the right policies in place, Punjab alone can contribute a three- to four-fold increase in the revenue generated by domestic tourism.
Tourism in Pakistan is a growing industry. In 2010, Lonely Planet termed Pakistan as being "...tourism's 'next big thing' for more years than we care to remember. But world media headlines often send things off the rails". The country is geographically and ethnically diverse, and has a number of historical and cultural heritage sites. The upsurge in tourism in the past few years has been aided by the Government of Pakistan's recent decision to end mandatory No Objection Certificates for foreign tourists seeking to visit certain parts of the country.
In 2018, the British Backpacker Society ranked Pakistan as the world's top adventure travel destination, describing the country as "one of the friendliest countries on earth, with mountain scenery that is beyond anyone's wildest imagination." Forbes ranked Pakistan as one of the 'coolest places' to visit in 2019. The World Economic Forum's Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report placed Pakistan in...