A country with diverse heritage and natural beauty, Pakistan is an attractive choice for travelers. From the world’s most dramatic mountain scenery, lands of high adventure, and serene valleys to the unfathomable ruins of ancient civilizations and Mughal monuments, Pakistan attract and appease the locals and the foreigners alike.
Pakistan is blessed with the world’s most beautiful kept secrets such as world second highest peak, K-2, most traditional polo tournament at Shandur Pass (the highest polo ground in the world at 3700 meters height), Heart melting cold desert in Skardu and Cholistan’s scorching desert with ancient civilization and much more.
Moreover, the religious sites of Hindus and Sikhs are another significant attraction for religious tourism. Punjab was the center of the only Sikh empire in history. Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Baba Guru Nanak, is one of the holiest sites for Sikhs with the potential to attract as many pilgrims as the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. Similarly, the Gandhara region of Pakistan including Mardan, Texila, and Swat holds a special place for Buddhists.
Despite all the attractions, Pakistan is long way short of exploiting its true potential. There was a time when Pakistan was a major tourist destination for the backpackers from the Europe and other parts of the world. In 1972, it was the only country in the region to recognize tourism as the wheel of progress. Bhutto wanted to rebuild the country on innovative lines and took several steps for the betterment of tourism sector.
However, after unfolding of events post 9/11, terrorism hit Pakistan badly. Pakistan was no more a preferred destination and was constantly in news for all the wrong reasons. This badly affected tourism industry despite great potential. Another misfortune was that the government badly neglected tourism industry in the last three decades. There were lack of efficient planning and necessary infrastructure for tourism could not be developed.
Despite security situation, domestic tourism remained robust and was the main reason of keeping local tourism economy afloat. But the situation is fast changing and foreign tourism in Pakistan is picking up again with a visible decrease in terrorism and the overall stability inside the country. Pakistan is constantly among the best tourist destination since last 3 years in various international travel magazines and surveys.
The current government is determined to revive the tourism and utilize it as major revenue earning industry. Prime minister is projecting Pakistan’s non-Islamic heritage at a time when religious nationalism, intolerance, and isolationism are soaring among the region. The present government has started ‘Visa-on-Arrival’ program to remove the cumbersome barriers in visa process so that tourists across the globe can easily visit the country. To attract more travellers, the government also abolished the ‘No Objection Certificate’ which had been required for foreigners to move around in the country. The opening of Kartarpur Corridor is also expected to play a vital role in increasing religious tourism. Such initiatives will surely help in increasing tourism to a certain extent. However, to fully exploit the tourism potential, a comprehensive plan with a dedicated approach is required.
Development of tourism industry in Pakistan can bring a great change to the economic status of the country. The present government predict that by the year 2025, tourism will contribute Rs.1 trillion (a similar value to Pakistan’s largest export item, cotton) to Pakistan’s economy. But even the best strategy will backfire if not managed well. Good management and planning is the foremost requirement. The national parks, coastal areas, and ancient sites of Southern provinces are as amazing as the country’s northern offerings and should not be overlooked.