NEWS of the plan to close six Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation motels and restaurants has coincided with the government’s announcement of its new policy of relaxing visa applications of foreign nationals from 175 countries. The visa application fee is also to be slashed by 22pc to 65pc. As it is, there are worries about whether the country even has the necessary infrastructure to accommodate a large number of visitors for tourism purposes. Several of the motels that may shut down are located on important tourist routes such as Taxila, Chattar Plain, Astak, Islamabad, etc. The management says it has little choice as the chain is suffering monetary losses that run into millions of rupees each year. Just two years ago, in 2017, newspaper reports stated that all PTDC motels were being renovated to attract more visitors. And two years before that, in 2015, a similar announcement was made to update all motels. Since the passing of the 18th Amendment, the administrative control and the management of PTDC’s assets and employees come under the federal government’s authority. This had irritated the provinces, particularly KP, where many of the buildings were located. In 2014, the Islamabad High Court had to issue a stay order to keep the provinces from ‘harassing’ PTDC employees and interfering in its affairs.
Regardless of whether the authority comes under the provinces or the centre, the institution has struggled to meet its stated aim to promote and develop tourism in the country by marketing tourist products at home and abroad and developing infrastructure and quality services for both foreign and domestic tourism purposes. Many of the buildings remain empty, ghostly structures, instead of being the lively, welcoming places they should be. The failure is especially apparent with the latest announcement. Surely, there are steps to be considered before taking such an extreme measure, which will also impact the employment of several daily-wage workers, and inconvenience many other full-time employees. Perhaps there is a lack of vision, creativity and innovation in the department, as tends to be the case in state-owned institutions — and that is where the private sector can come in. The private sector will have a better business sense and understanding of healthy competition and consumer needs, while retaining the government’s control over regulation and policy, and keeping pace with international best practices.
Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2019