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Pakistan Tourism: Industry that holds potential, yet is marred by challenges

Pakistan’s tourism industry is grappling with significant challenges that hinder its growth potential. It is a sad reality of a country which otherwise has a lot to offer in terms of scenic views, unexplored cultures and diverse foods. One of the key issues for the tourism sector in the country is the depleted infrastructure across the country. Insufficient hotel business, poor road accessibility, underdeveloped tourist routes, and a shortage of visitor services pose significant obstacles to the industry’s progress.

According to the authors of Tourism Problems in Pakistan: An Analysis of earlier investigations, Quality infrastructure, including airports, roads, transportation, lodging options, and local tour operators, plays a vital role in attracting and accommodating tourists. Despite Pakistan’s breathtaking landscapes in the northern regions that could captivate millions of tourists worldwide, the lack of development in these areas has prevented them from capitalizing on their true potential.

There are many factors that negatively impact the tourism sector in Pakistan and prevent it from performing at its full potential.

Hospitality sector lacks development

The authors of Tourism in Pakistan, Challenges and Opportunities, published in the Journal of Social Sciences Review (JSSR), in 2022 argue that the hotel industry in Pakistan still falls short of international standards due to inadequate facilities, a lack of government programs, and security-related concerns. Many hotels and restaurants in the country have yet to establish comprehensive certification criteria that guarantee excellent services. The application of regulations is crucial to maintaining the standards of the hospitality business and keeping up with the evolving needs of the travel and tourism sector. A well-developed and regulated hospitality sector is essential for providing tourists with exceptional experiences.

Religious tourism still has a lot to offer

Pakistan boasts several religious sites, particularly those dedicated to Buddhism, Sikhism, and Christianity. According to Pakistan tourism industry and challenges: a review, published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, although some religious sites are widely visited by foreign tourists, Pakistan still has a lot of unexplored destinations that hold a lot of tourism potential. Dating back to as early as 300 BC, the country is home to ancient Buddhist landmarks such as Sirkap, Jindal Temple, and Jaulian Monastery. Additionally, the tomb of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, holds immense significance and is a major pilgrimage site. Other notable Gurudwaras (Sikh shrines) include Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, Gurdwara Rori Sahib in Eminabad, and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Narowal. Despite the diversity and appeal of these sites, Pakistan has yet to fully explore and develop the religious tourism industry on a sustainable basis.

Although Sikh and Hindu religious groups visit these shrines, there is a tab on the number of pilgrim visas issued, since most of these visitors are from India. Pakistan still has many untapped religious and cultural sites that are either not developed or are in ruins. Some cultures, such as that of Kalash, which traces its roots to the Albanian races, are still unknown to the outer world. Apart from the lack of development, the absence of publicity and communication about these sites and cultures is also an important factor that contributes to the current state of the tourism industry in Pakistan.

Impact of terrorism

The country has been undeniably grappling with terrorism for decades and it has had a devastating impact on the tourism industry. David McA. Baker, in his book, Tourism and Terrorism: Terrorists’ Threats to Commercial Aviation Safety and Security writes following the events of 9/11, Pakistan became stigmatized as an “unsafe” destination, severely damaging its reputation.

Frequent bomb explosions, targeted assassinations, drone attacks, and violence across the nation have hindered the expansion of the tourism sector and the overall economy. Although there is a desire among international visitors to explore Pakistan’s rich heritage and natural beauty, concerns about security and law and order deter many potential tourists from visiting the country. This built a perception of Pakistan being an unsafe place to travel and thus the tourism sector has suffered the most because of it.

Pakistan’s tourism industry faces numerous challenges that hinder its growth and potential. Depleted infrastructure, an underdeveloped hospitality sector, unexplored religious sites, the impact of terrorism, government negligence, social challenges, and negative media portrayal all contribute to the industry’s struggles. To overcome these obstacles and tap into its vast tourism potential, Pakistan must prioritize infrastructure development, enhance hospitality standards, promote religious tourism, address security concerns, invest in tourist destinations, and foster a positive image through responsible media practices.

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