LAHORE: Acknowledging that Punjab has never utilised the economic potential of the tourism sector that remained mainstay of many countries in the world, the Punjab government has given its first Punjab Tourism Policy to make Punjab an attractive tourist destination through inclusive planning, diversification, development and management of tourist destinations.
The Punjab cabinet approved the tourism policy in its 15th meeting on July 20 aspiring to make tourism an engine of economic growth while treating the sector as a provincial priority area.
The tourism was effectively developed under the close supervision of former tourism minister Raja Yasir Humayun, but he was stripped off his tourism ministry, only hours before the cabinet approved the tourism policy. Still, Mr Humayun briefed the cabinet about tourism policy’s key features.
The Punjab Tourism Policy document explains that the UNWTO (World Tourism Barometer) had recorded a 12 per cent increase in the growth of tourism in South Asia in 2017. However, this growth was neither witnessed in Pakistan nor this growth trajectory was followed to contribute fully in the development of Pakistan.
Among other shortcomings, poor security situation, lack of trained human resources, lack of diversity in tourist destinations, poor infrastructure and weak institutional infrastructure remained the major key issues and challenges towards tapping the true potential of the sector.
In its maiden tourism policy, the Punjab government plans to develop and sell its landscape, wetlands, ecology, history, heritage, festivals, cuisine and its religious heritage and archaeological assets – without disturbing socio-ecological balance in close collaboration with private sector.
The Punjab government has proposed that the strategy for development of tourism will be driven by the government and led by the private sector. The policy requires tourist sites are developed in a planned manner and the new sites may be declared as protected sites.
The policy identifies five strategic thrust areas – building state-of-the-art tourism infrastructure, ensuring safety and security of tourists, building a strong tourism brand, developing talent for tourism services and ensuring that growth in tourism sector is sustainable.
The policy gives tourism department a direction to ensure fixing the institutions through Institutional Reform Package. It asks for federal-provincial coordination and alignment, strengthened public sector capacity for tourism sector management and supporting private sector-led growth.
Since the tourism sector potential had remained untapped, the tourism department has been entrusted the task to calibrate regulations through Regulatory Reforms Package; enact supporting laws and regulations, provide requisite financing through Tourism Investment Package, Public-Private Partnership and incentives for private sector investors.
The Punjab tourism department plans tapping religious tourism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, spiritual tourism, cultural and heritage tourism, World Heritage Sites, Indus Valley Civilization, Mughal and British Era monuments, adventure and desert tourism, Cholistan and Thal Deserts, eco tourism, Soan Valley, Salt Range, Urban and Recreational Tourism, hilly areas of Murree in the province besides tourist attractions in Lahore, Multan and Bahawalpur.
The tourism policy proposes specific strategies for the private sector, tour operators, hoteliers, travel agents, NGOs, heritage tourism, Sufi/Mystic tourism, food safety and Tourist Information Centers.
The policy also envisages effective marketing, outreach and communications through a communications policy to reach out to multiple levels of target audience. It is required to encourage information sharing and coordination at all levels through identifying stakeholders’ engagement platforms; sustained advocacy through media and inclusion of all strata of society and reaching out to youth and women.
The policy implementation framework has been assigned to the Tourism Development Committee; High level committee to spearhead the implementation of the Policy; and Capacity building of Tourism Department and its agencies.
Acceding that the new tourism policy only marks the first step towards tourism development in the province and putting Punjab as a prominent destination on international tourist circuit, the tourism department has agreed to formulate a detailed implementation plan to put this policy in action and for rolling out reforms. The Policy also envisages mid- course policy review after two years
With the promotion of tourism, the government expects upward social mobility of the local marginalized communities and making tourism an engine of economic growth and poverty alleviation in the province.
Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2019