AS popular refrains go, Pakistan has much to offer tourists. Consequently, the relevant authorities are being asked to make efforts to properly showcase the excitements the land has in store for visitors. Official lack of enthusiasm is routinely condemned, often drawing a halfhearted response from the provinces. But now, Punjab can perhaps claim that it has tried to address the issue in earnest by coming up with an ambitious tourism policy which got the provincial cabinet’s nod last month. Sadly, the circumstances under which it was presented shows just how casually the tourism sector is viewed in this country. It was introduced by a minister who had only recently been relieved of the charge of tourism — apparently because as holder of the higher education portfolio, he couldn’t do full justice to both at the same time. In the past too, the formula has been to entrust the tourism ministry as an additional charge to someone who has already been assigned a more fulfilling portfolio.
Little has been done in practical terms to justify the self-edifying melodies sung in praise of Pakistan’s tourism potential. The new Punjab policy is also full of grand words about developing sites; this needs quite a lot of field effort. In essence, it is based on a rather old realisation that the private sector has to be roped in to play the role of the partner Punjab seeks in order to develop its “landscape, ecology, history, festivals, cuisines and its religious heritage and archaeological assets” for tourists. So far, there have been few clues as to how the Punjab government wants to pursue its wonderful vision. Whenever it has time, it must remember one principle that is globally applied to promoting tourism: there has to be a balance between looking after one’s guests and rules for their entry and movement in the country. There is no reason why a government which claims it has so much to offer should be so strict with visitors.
Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2019