Tourism has always been a “weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard-like thing” that has strutted around the potent spell of official inefficiency. Its lack of performance warrants serious analysis because despite its diverse and large base, the sector has failed to harness its full potential.
Although, unlike other natural resource-based economic development initiatives such as mining and timber production, tourism needs fewer financial resources to develop.
But tourism has never been viewed as a major engine of economic growth. In fact, we have failed to regard tourism equal to other industries capable of creating jobs, earning foreign exchange, improving terms of trade, and regional development, overcoming economic disparities and for conservation purposes.
The available literature on tourism suggests its first master plan was conceived in 1967. Although it recognised environmental considerations in general terms, it laid no emphasis on environmental conservation. Resultantly, hotels and tourists resorts emerged close to natural attractions and archaeological monuments.
The rapid urbanisation brought encroachments around monuments of historical and cultural importance, for example, around Shalimar Garden, Lahore that have impacted negatively on the prospects of cultural tourism.
Similarly, “no attention was paid to preserve potential landscapes for recreation purposes. The Nala Dek in Sialkot, Lower Bari Doab Canal in Lahore and the Bara River Peshawar were major sources of enjoyment and recreation. These potential landscapes are now being polluted by adding sewerage water into them. Similarly, the landscapes of riverfronts in Lahore, Sukkur and many other historic towns have not been exploited at all. From 1967 to the time when National Tourism Policy of 1990 went public, no policy level attempts were made to develop tourism on national level. While some isolated projects, rules, regulations and activities such as UNESCO’ Master Plan for the Preservation of Mohenjo Daro, 1972, compilation of tourists statistics in 1971 etc were seen, convergence of resources and expertise through integrated planning and cooperation among public and private sectors at federal, provincial and local levels were never sought on policy level.
Some measures were taken to control pollution in mountainous areas in 1983 and in 1988 by making expeditions responsible for leaving camping sites clean of garbage, supply of kerosene oil to the porter and contribution of clean up operation fee of $200 etc.
Then came the National Tourism Policy of 1990 with the following core objectives: it stressed on the government to ensure preservation of environment and ecology. It argued that market forces cannot be expected to ensure environmental degradation. It proposed launching of educational programmes for creating awareness and conservation efforts
The objectives of National Tourism Policy of 1990 do not appear to be enough to take care of tourism development as such. Hinged largely around preservation and conservation of environment, the policy had failed to recognise tourism as major engine of economic growth capable of generating mass employment opportunities, alleviating poverty, and positing Pakistan as a global brand capable of capitalising on the increasing international travel, trade, and investment opportunities.
It failed also to link tourism development with environment policy as a strategic national development goal. Even the stated objectives of Tourism Policy 1990 were never achieved. Degradation of natural resources continued unabated around the republic and the proposed educational programmes were never incorporated in educational curriculum.
After a gap of 11 years, the government had announced tourism policy 2001 with major highlight: tourism shall continue to be treated as industry. Year-round tourism will be promoted. Efforts will be made for qualitative improvement, development in environment, human resources, tourist services, and the tourist product. Federal and provincial governments will be asked to bring all legislation in consonance with demand of the tourist industry. It will stimulate private sector involvement in tourism through provision of industry support constructs.
It seems the government has drafted this policy in an extreme haste. The entire policy, whatever it is, is not available on website of Ministry of Tourism that has been developed or has been in the process of being developed at the ‘cost of Rs5 million for promotion of tourism industry and dissemination of information to tourists, researchers, and general public.
Other than the policies and organisations, the country has a Tourism Master Plan 2002. Prepared jointly by United Nations Development Programme, the WTO, and the government of Pakistan, the master plan had enumerated among the others, several constraints, “which must be overcome to ensure the sustainable development of tourism services:” (1) Lack of awareness amongst the general public about the structure, impact and benefits of tourism. (2) Limitations on adequately trained personnel in all sectors (3) Outdated regulations and over-regulation of tourist services and facilities in certain areas and a lack of regulation in other areas (4) Lack of investment in tourist facilities and services by both national and provincial authorities and few incentives for private investors (5) Limited and outdated infrastructure all over the country
For Pakistan to make progress in this sector, it may be recommended that the government should explore the links that exist between sustainable tourism development and natural and cultural resource management. Efforts must be directed to develop community-based tourism and recreational opportunities for a very large domestic tourist market. Ministry of tourism needs to develop a comprehensive domestic tourism policy. Similarly, the Tourism Policy 2001 must no longer look vague. The government needs to develop it properly for country to make substantial gains from global tourism market growing at seven to 12 per cent annually since 2002.
For foreign tourists Pakistan has immense potential particularly in “eco-tourism,” due to the availability of vast tracts of pristine natural settings. This we say without entangling our horns in the complex business of defining exactly the term ecotourism, but agreeing to its main feature: “(1) All forms of tourism aimed at the appreciation of both natural and traditional cultural recourse in natural areas. (2) Deliberate efforts to minimise the harmful human impacts on the natural and socio-cultural environment. (3) Support for the protection of natural, cultural assets, and the well-being of host communities.”
Actually, the ministry of tourism needs to understand that the developed countries lack pristine natural settings but have affluence, time, and desire to visit exotic places for camping and nature study etc. The forecasts by WTO in “Tourism 2020 Vision” and others state tourism volume, employment and export earning is expected to move away from developed countries towards less developed countries. Therefore, what is the point in missing yet another opportunity to harness the potential that tourism offers?