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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) earned a profit of Rs1.1 million in the current financial year for the first time in several years, a Senate committee was informed on Tuesday.

While senior government officials appeared proud to have pulled PTDC out of continuous loss, some members of the Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat dropped their faces into their hands to express their frustration and disappointment with its performance.

In their defence, government officials argued that the tourism industry suffered neglect after the 18th Amendment.

“Neither the federal government or provincial governments owned tourism, to promote the many exotic destinations in Pakistan and generate revenues,” a senior PTDC official told the senators, who had met for a detailed briefing on the operations and problems of the PTDC.

While senators gave examples of countries relying entirely or mostly on tourism as a major source of income, officials explained that PTDC was operating on an annual budget of Rs200m out of which Rs180m went to paying its staff.

According to a senior official, PTDC was left with just Rs18m for tourism promotion. The official added that the PTDC has also been without a head or board to manage its affairs for a year.

Senator Hidayatullah suggested that the tourism department be handed over to the provinces, to which Cabinet Secretariat Secretary Shaista Sohail told the committee that her office has prepared a proposal for the prime minister.

“We have suggested the same, that provinces need to own the tourism industry following the spirit of the 18th Amendment and that policymaking on the promotion of tourism in the country should be retained by the federal government,” Ms Sohail said.

The tourism industry has performed poorly since its inception in the 1970s, the committee observed.

Senator Javed Abbasi said local tourists need to be attracted more than international ones to start generating revenue.

Senator Rubina Khalid suggested engaging the private sector to get the industry back on its feet.

“The government cannot do everything except provide certain utility services and a network of proper roads for easy access,” she said.

However, the committee chairman Senator Talha Mahmood believed that tourism should remain a federal subject. But after suggestions and recommendations from other committee members, Senator Mahmood assured that the missing infrastructure, road connections, telephone and internet facilities, hotels and other facilities at tourist spots around the country would be brought to the prime minister’s notice.

“Pakistan offers many tourist destinations that many other countries do not. The prime minister needs to look into the matter personally,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2018