International tourism is becoming a key player in the global economy. The countries are boosting tourism to uplift their economy, promote peace, develop human resources, and reduce poverty. Tourism offers lucrative opportunities for growing economies by magnifying the economy’s revenue, preserving culture, creating job opportunities, and encouraging multi-use infrastructure development. Moreover, the tourism industry is the engine of GDP growth. Developing countries can generate an ample amount of foreign exchange from tourism that can be used to engender sustainable growth and development. Also, tourism revenue compliments the income generated from foreign trades of goods and services, making it a substitute for export earnings. Therefore, developing countries can unleash their economic potential by adopting effective strategies to recover and revive the tourism sector.
Tourism in Pakistan
Tourism is a great economic driver, especially for countries like Pakistan, which offers much allure in the developing world. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2017, around 1.75 million visitors travelled to Pakistan, resulting in a revenue of $19.4 billion and 6.9% of the GDP. The amount is expected to rise to 36.1 billion dollars within a decade (Manzoor et al., 2019). Moreover, Pakistan attracted more than two million foreign tourists, particularly in the Northern Areas in 2019 (Khan et al., 2022). The conventionally ignored tourism sector in the country is now receiving more government attention. For instance, Pakistan’s government has made tourist visas more accessible and allowed visitors from 30 nations to enter the country without a visa. Tourist initiatives like “Emerging Pakistan” and “Amazing Pakistan” promote the positive brand image of the country in international forums. However, Pakistan’s tourism sector is never given priority at the federal and provincial levels, regardless of its enormous economic benefits. Poor connectivity infrastructure lead to the inaccessibility of many potential tourist areas. Social challenges like poor customer service quality, selfish attitudes and substandard treatment of non-native or international tourists deter tourists from travelling to Pakistan. Moreover, media portrayals focus more on the country’s tragic incidents, bombings, and violence, damaging the country’s image. According to a World Economic Forum report in 2021, Pakistan ranks 83/117 countries in the travel and tourism competitiveness index (World Economic Forum, 2022). The tourism sector in the country is without effective policies encouraging private-sector investments. According to World Travel and Tourism Council 2021, the total contribution of Travel and Tourism to GDP in Pakistan dropped to 4.4% of the total GDP as compared to 5.7% in 2019 (Khan et al., 2022). Pakistan has all elements of a self-sustaining tourist business. Thus, it must overcome certain obstacles by adopting effective measures to revive and recover its tourism sector.
Diversification of Destinations
Pakistan is a geographically and culturally diverse country. It offers a wide range of tourist destinations. However, only a few destinations remain the focus of local and non-native tourists. Therefore, these destinations should be diversified through targeted promotion, supporting multi-use infrastructure, and developing new infrastructure will increase the sector’s worth. For example, Marriott International has announced the initiation of a Marriott hotel in Multan, which will grow the cultural and business destination and result in international tourist inflow in the area.
To initiate tourism recovery, investments in digitisation are crucial. Digital platforms and tools are increasingly used by tourists and businesses associated with the industry. They allow for better convenience and personalisation for travellers. For instance, facilities delivered by digitisation, like digital menus about famous local foods, information about popular sites or activities in a locality, ordering room service etc., available on mobile phones are a must for all tourist destinations. Such investments in enhancing technology will likely attract tourists around the globe and boost tourism in Pakistan.
Reinforce Small Businesses
Local hotels and small businesses give travellers an impression of unmatched authenticity and are significant economic engines for their regions. Strengthening small businesses by giving incentives or financial support can benefit tourism stability. Moreover, affiliating small or local hotels with chain or franchise-type hospitality groups to get into larger hotel chain distribution systems will allow these small hotels access to a competitive business ecosystem and the tools to help manage day-to-day operations and encourage them to follow the brand standards.
Private Sector Promoting Tourist Attractions
Allowing the private sector to promote tourist attractions can unleash tourism potential in the country. Government institutions may backfire on the diversifying strategies for tourist destinations. For example, PTDC motels may crowd out private investment to improve their operations. Therefore, it should be privatised. Also, the government should collaborate with the private sector to function and conserve tourist attractions, including historical sites. A management contract involving performance evaluation criteria, overseen by regulatory authorities, would remit negligence and assure that tourist sites are promoted actively.
Develop a Comprehensive Tourism Strategy
The government should develop a comprehensive tourism strategy based on current tourism assets and potential tourist sites, encompassing the promotion and maintenance of the tourist sites. Moreover, redesigning the Ministry of tourism is essential to promote tourism in Pakistan suitably. For instance, the Ministry of tourism has split from the Ministry of culture, although culture plays a pivotal role in tourism and cannot be promoted on its own. Therefore, the government should reconsider whether the ministries should be merged again, considering all the prospects and challenges.
Attract Millennial Tourists
Millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the largest living adult generation (Fry, 2020). Therefore, it is expected that the Millennial generation will form a large portion of future travellers. However, this generation is tech-savvy and follows the latest trends. Moreover, they seek authenticity and a distinctive travel experience. Therefore, digitisation of the tourism sector is essential in attracting this generation. Since Pakistan has a diversified tourism profile, it can promote various tourist sites by targeting millennials through various digital platforms.
Link Product Development with Tourist Segments
Product development should be connected with potential tourist segments and their demand profiles. Recognising and catering to the neighbouring markets of China and India can result in unprecedented tourism growth in Pakistan. For example, Jordan and Israel’s tourism sectors progressed after the peace talks (World Bank, 2005). Similarly, by easing the immigration and visa process for Indian tourists, Pakistan can boost tourism and send a message of regional peace and stability. Moreover, recognising overseas Pakistanis as the major markets is crucial as they make up three-fifths of tourism inbounds (World Bank, 2005). Therefore, the government should provide a range of creative and innovative packages for all sorts of markets to revive its tourism industry.
Tourism is an important economic sector. It drives economic growth and creates employment, strengthening developing economies. To recover tourism in Pakistan, the government should strengthen its commitment to safety, authenticity, security, promotion of diversity and hygiene to retain current tourists and attract new ones. With these components in place, tourism can be the engine for Pakistan’s stagnant economy and ensure prosperity and resilience in those regions which are underdeveloped or ignored.