Pakistan highly recommended ‘must-visit’ tourist destination
Islamabad : Improved security situation, ranked high by international tourism advisers and recommendations by travel and food bloggers have put Pakistan in the spotlight of international tourism for 2019.
Be it the global media company Forbes or British Backpacker Society, the good news is that Pakistan is highly recommended, unexplored, and a ‘must-visit’ tourist destination for years to come. But are we prepared to host a high number of tourists?
A recent visit to some famous tourists’ spots in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) shows that much has to be done to create world class or basically required facilities for tourists at these beautiful places gifted to Pakistan by nature.
It was almost impossible to enjoy the beauty of frozen Banjosa Lake (around 6000 ft) and breathtaking view of Lusdana (9000 ft) due to the struggle to bear the cold. Gas heaters on cylinders or electric heaters seemed ineffective in the freezing cold. There were no rest areas on the way, no quality food outlets, and almost no activity for the tourists visiting these spots in this weather.
However in Muzaffarabad, it was heartening to know that the AJK government is gearing up to meet the challenge. The authorities are planning to establish three tourism corridors across the state for attracting local and foreign tourists. The AJK government is hopeful that this initiative would help create employment opportunities for skilled and semi-skilled youth, reduce poverty and enhance income of rural people.
In a recent interaction with media persons, the AJK Acting Chief Secretary Dr Syed Asif Hussain said the major tourism corridor starts from Muzaffarabad up to Devi Gali in Tarrakhal. The first corridor is in the Jehlum Valley and Poonch, the second in Neelum Valley and the third in Kotli-Mirpur.
He said that water tourism facilities are being developed in south, winter activities in north and summer tourism and ice skating facilities in Neelum’s Baan Valley will be developed.
As a first step towards implementation, Dr Syed Asif Hussain said that the AJK government with financial and technical assistance of Asian Development Bank (ADB) had developed and improved different roads leading to various tourist destinations.
He said after 2014 flash floods, the AJK government and ADB entered into an agreement for rehabilitation and reconstruction of roads infrastructure for common man’s accessibility and promotion of tourism. The ADB had provided $220.04 m under three years Flood Emergency Reconstruction and Resilience Project (FERRP) for the construction of 10 major and 15 districts roads. The governments share in the project was $24.23 million. So far 90 per cent work on this project has been completed. The new road has already led to increase in the influx of tourists.
But would the road network be enough to facilitate the tourists, especially international tourists who design their travel plans according to the facilities available in the destination places. They rely on social media to get all this information.
In a press conference in Islamabad, Eva zu Beck, famous travel vlogger behind PIA’s viral ‘Kiki Challenge” said that tourist friendly infrastructure and lack of information for tourists on available means of transport, infrastructure, guest houses etc. are the main challenges faced by Pakistan tourism.
The tourism experts believe that tourism requires a combination of infrastructure and social mindset to fully utilize the potential of tourism industry. “Tourism brings many employment and investment opportunities for the locals. It has a huge multiplier effect on local businesses and economy. In Tourism business, you export services and goodwill and import money. But tourism needs careful planning to maximize benefits and minimize adverse impact on natural and social environment,” said M Ismail Khan, an official of ADB who is also an expert on tourism.
In his media briefing, Dr Hussain said that after the development of quality roads, there is now need to develop allied facilities for which the AJK government plans to engage the private sector. He said that the AJK has decided to adopt Bhutan model of tourism based on the concept of eco-tourism besides earning money.