KARACHI: “Maritime tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the world, but here in Pakistan, where we have 700 miles of unbelievable beaches, the beachfront is shrinking for the common man,” said retired Vice Admiral Syed Khawar Ali Shah, director general of the National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA), during his keynote address at a day-long seminar on ‘Potential of maritime tourism development in Pakistan’.
The event was organised by NIMA at the Pakistan Maritime Museum here on Thursday.
The seminar was said to be held to get all the stakeholders of maritime tourism on board. While NIMA noted their candid views, it also promised to advocate their issues and get things moving in the proper direction.
Mr Khawar spoke about the Maldives, a country which has achieved so much through tourism, and compared it with the beautiful places with great potential for tourism such as the Hingol National Park in Balochistan, the mud volcanoes, the coastal belt of Pakistan.
Experts stress need to develop beachfronts
“Historically, Pakistan had a lot of maritime tourism till the 1970s as compared to now. There used to be dozens of sailing boats plying in the harbour, where families as well as foreigners would spend their evenings. There used to be weekly sailing regattas, the Keamari boat basin and Clifton beach were clean where low-income people would throng for picnic and swimming and the more affluent had huts at Sandspit, Hawkesbay, and Paradise Point,” he said before presenting the current scenario where pollution has practically turned the Karachi harbour into a sewer; there are no more boat races and most of the huts are dilapidated.
“A city like Karachi with a population of around 20 million is starved of affordable and beach-based activities,” he said. “CPEC can be an enormous potential for Chinese tourists.”
It was also said that in terms of tourism receipts in South Asia, Pakistan only scraped one per cent of the $31.4 billion in South Asia spent by foreign tourists in 2017 despite having miles of sandy beaches, coastal highway, warm waters, mangroves and lagoons. India was the biggest beneficiary with foreign tourists spending $21bn there. This was because there is no decent accommodation, restaurant or other facilities available here and there are always NOCs needed for something or another to make tourism very difficult in Pakistan.
Naghmana Zafar, a faculty member at NIMA, spoke about building maritime tourism through blue economy. She pointed out that coastal maritime tourism is projected to be the largest value-adding segment of the ocean economy by 2030 with an estimated global growth rate of more than 3.5 per cent per annum. “So it is an opportunity as well as responsibility for promoting sustainable tourism here,” she said, adding that the US, China, Japan, Germany and the UK were the top five markets in terms of visitors’ export in 2018, collectively representing 47pc of the global travel and tourism GDP.
Five-star hotels along coast suggested
Azeem Qureshi, corporate director of sales at Avari International Hotels, said that there was a need for more five-star hotels along the coast such as the historic Beach Luxury Hotel. He said that there was so much potential here for sport fishing and water sports such as scuba diving, hang-gliding behind a motorboat, jet-skiing, etc, which needed to be utilised through proper marketing.
Aftabur Rehman Rana, president of the Sustainable Tourism Foundation Pakistan, said that we needed to know how to promote community-based maritime ecotourism in our beautiful marine environment.
Dr Nuzhat Khan of the National Institute of Oceanography, who introduced herself as a research tourist, said that coastal tourism was an untapped treasure. She said if one even headed towards Do Darya, they should know that it is not just about having food by the seaside. “If you look at these places through my eyes, you will see the migratory birds from Siberia as little paper boats floating on the water,” she said.
Bringing attention to the significance of boats in coastal tourism, Asif Bhatti, president of the Native Islander Fishermen Association, said that there used to be sailing boats and fishing boat races here at one time which have stopped happening now and that maritime pollution here is so bad that the waters stink. “We the local fishermen need to promote our local dishes to attract tourism here,” he said, adding that the destruction of the mangrove forests here was ruining our environment, the landscape as well as marine life.
Farhan Farooq of Divers Reef Karachi said whenever there is Section 144 imposed to stop people from getting into the water during the monsoon months, they forget to lift the ban later which poses problems for people like him who offer snorkelling services.
Finally, retired vice admiral Asaf Humayun, the chief guest on the occasion, said that while we have improved roads and highways to get to the northern areas, nothing has been done to make our beaches more accessible. “We should have a one-window operation for licences for boats, etc, a one-window operation for handling issues of security and a one-window operation for providing coastal facilities and activities such as water sports, food and hospitality,” he said while adding that he was appalled at the attitude of the DHA for blocking people’s access to the beach. “We should raise our voice against this,” he said.
Potential for cruise ships
He also said that it was important to think about how to make Karachi and Gwadar open to cruise ships. “The Mumbai port is already open for cruise ships and we can do it too if we clean our ports,” he said. “Cruise ships leaving the Mumbai port then go to Oman. If they are to make a two-day stop at Karachi or Gwadar, you need to create attractions for them, which in turn will give you a steady money stream to help your economy. There is a big area we are missing out on that is associated with the cruise industry,” he said.
Another thing that he divulged was the need to seriously work at decongesting islands around Karachi such as the Baba and Bhit islands. “They can be developed for tourism provided we make some room on them as they are really overpopulated right now,” he said, while also suggesting shifting the ship-breaking industry from Gadani. “It is spoiling a beautiful beach which needs to be reclaimed,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2019