Tourism and related activities are considered a great source of revenue generation for an economy as this sector contributes a fair share to a country’s economic development and growth. It supplements foreign exchange earnings, and sometimes also finances the import of capital goods necessary for the growth of manufacturing sectors in an economy. On the other hand, rapid economic growth in developed economies attracts foreigners on business travels, which leads to an increase in the forex reserves of a country. In Pakistan, the government is making strenuous efforts to promote tourism and it is expected that by 2025, the tourism sector will be contributing, at least, one trillion rupees to the national economy.
In October 2006, a British newspaper The Guardian released a list what it described as “Top Five Tourist Sites in Pakistan” to help boost the country’s tourism industry. The sites included Lahore, the Karakoram Highway, Karimabad and Lake Saiful Muluk. Then, to promote the country’s unique cultural heritage, the Government of Pakistan launched the “Visit Pakistan” campaign in 2007. This campaign involved events throughout the year including fairs and religious festivals, regional sporting events, arts and craft shows, folk festivals and openings of historical museums. In 2010, Lonely Planet, a large travel guide book publisher, termed Pakistan as being “tourism industry’s ‘next big thing’. But, over these years, the prejudiced world media kept on portraying Pakistan as a hub of terrorism and their headlines always sent things off the rails. And, now, in 2018, the British Backpacker Society has ranked Pakistan as the world’s top adventure travel destination, describing Pakistan as “one of the friendliest countries on earth, with mountain scenery that is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.”
A look at the statistics of recent years suggests that in 2016, the number of foreign tourists visiting Pakistan stood at 965,498. Pakistan’s tourism industry attracted an estimated 1.1 million foreign tourists in 2011 and 966,000 in 2012, contributing $351 million and $369 million, respectively, to the national exchequer. Before declining to 565,212 in 2013, which contributed only $298 million in 2014, Pakistan received 530,000 foreign tourists contributing $308 million. By comparison, Pakistan’s domestic tourism industry is estimated at 50 million tourists who travel in the country on short trips usually between May and August. The largest tourism inflow in 2010 was from United Kingdom, followed by United States, India and China. The travel and tourism sector contributed Rs930.9 billion, that is 2.9 percent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 and is forecast to rise this year. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the direct contribution of travel and tourism in Pakistan has remained with the rise by 5.9 percent to Rs. 986 billion in 2018. The contribution primarily reflects the economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services. Total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP, including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts was Rs2,349 billion in 2017 (7.4 percent of GDP) and it was by 5.8 percent to Rs. 2,486 billion (7.4 percent of GDP) in 2018. Further, the report stated that travel and tourism generated 1,493,000 jobs directly in 2017 (2.5 percent of total employment) and this is forecast to grow by 2.8 percent in 2018 to 1,534,000 (2.5 percent of total employment). By 2028, travel and tourism will account for 2,008,000 jobs directly.
There lies an untapped potential in the tourism industry of Pakistan because of its diverse culture, languages, heritage and traditions which, if harnessed effectively, can contribute to GDP worth $9.5 billion by 2025. But, Pakistan attracted just around two million foreign tourists in 2018. In the same duration, Turkey had a record season with 39 million foreign tourists. Admittedly, it is not advisable to compare Pakistan with well-established tourist destinations like Spain (77m) and Italy (56m), what about our neighbours? China had 64 million tourists and India, for the first time in its history, hit the 11 million mark in 2018.
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