ISLAMABAD: Tourism sector is booming in Pakistan as the government has introduced major reforms and taken multiple steps to attract local and foreign tourists by projecting its touristic assets at international level in an effective manner.
The tourism initiatives, rolled out by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government soon after coming into the power, included Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation’s restructuring and its website’s transformation, formation of National Tourism Coordination Board, ten-year National Tourism Strategy along with five-year action plan, creation of tourism endowment fund, easy E-visa policy, opening of Kartarpur Corridor, and establishment of Buddha and heritage trails, read an official document.
The document also mentioned financial allocation, impact and benefits of the initiatives taken by the present government to preserve, develop and promote the tourism sector.
Talking to reporter, NTCB Chairman Sayed Zulfikar Bukhari confirmed that the country attracted more tourists in recent winter as compared to the tourism season (summer) of the last year as the government brought massive reforms in the tourism sector, in addition to several tourism-friendly initiatives.
He added that Pakistan had every reason to be among the top tourist destinations of the world but its tourism sector remained under developed and undervalued due to slackness of the previous governments.
According to an official handout, the PTDC restructuring process was initiated in 2019 after the Federal Cabinet gave approval for reconstitution of the corporation’s Board of Directors and rationalization of its human resources on the advice a special tourism task force. The move was meant to attract local and foreign tourists by promoting the tourism sector on modern lines and sound footings.
The government also set up the NTCB, comprising members of federal and provincial tourism departments, and travel and trade associations, in addition to multiple experts.
The board was given wide mandate for coordinating with provincial, national and international organizations; marketing and promotion of tourism and participation at international expos; coordination with relevant stakeholders on investment and human resource development; providing assistance to the provinces in chalking out regulatory framework for quality standards and to promote inter-provincial cooperation and synergies.
The board was given a task to make policies for promoting and marketing tourism at local and international level. The PTDC is implementing agency for the purpose.
The NTCB was also given mandate for overseeing reforms related to visa and No Objection Certificates.
The board formulated a ten year National Tourism Strategy (NTS) along with five-year action plan, aimed at transforming Pakistan into preferred tourist destination by promoting culturally conducive, economically viable and environmentally sustainable tourism.
NTS focused on four clusters including good governance, tourism growth, human resource development and job creation, and enablers of growth.
Under each cluster, actions and sub-actions were identified that covered entire breadth of tourism.
For promotion of religious tourism, inter-faith harmony and soft image of Pakistan, the present government reconstructed and opened second holiest Sikh Shrine—Kartarpur, 5 kilometer away from Indian Punjab, to allow visa-free entry to Sikh pilgrims from India.
Similarly, Buddha trail consisting Buddhist heritage sites of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit Baltistan and Punjab was also on the cards.
The document also mentioned Al-Beruni Radius Heritage trail which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan recently at Nandana Fort, Jhelum. It was not only aimed at preserving and conserving the site but also transforming it into an international tourism site.
The trail would be a gateway to seven archaeological sites including Nadana Fort, Shiva Temple, Khewra Salt Mine, Malot Fort and Takht-e-Babri.
It said the government had introduced e-visa for nationals of 170 countries and visa-on-arrival for 50 countries by simplifying the visa policy. Business visa process has also been simplified, it added.
The PTDC website transformation was also among the other initiatives. It was meant to make it more interactive and responsive to the tourists needs.
The government also created a Pakistan Tourism Development Endowment Fund with Rs one billion seed money to finance various initiatives to support tourism industry.