Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Vista of opportunities for our ailing economy

                                                         by Masood Ali Khan

           In 2001 around 10 million Chinese traveled all over the world spending 20 billion US dollars. What could have been our share had we captured only 5% of 20 billion US dollars? By the year 2020 the number of Chinese travelers is expected to grow up to 100 million generating 200 billion US dollars. If we could target just 5% of that Chinese market by 2020 it would mean 10 billion US dollars directly added to our economy from one country only.

         I have quoted the figures of China’s outbound tourism for the 2001. In later years this picture has changed drastically and number of Chinese tourists going abroad has increased by 300% (31miollion in 2005). By 2008 when almost every country faced an economic recession, number of China’s outbound tourists still registered growth (which has been the result of a high growth rate in China’s GDP which also strengthened the Chinese Yuan).  
        We have so many opportunities to generate revenues from tourism.

Opportunity – I: Heritage Tourism

After China - Japan, Taiwan and South Korea in the Far East offer a potent market with largest number of outbound tourists. This too is a substantial market for Pakistan’s inbound tourism. Our Buddhist heritage (the Gandhara art) is an avenue where no wizardry is required. We only need to market our heritage sector properly to the Far Eastern travelers as many Buddhist shrines and relics feature prominently in their tours.

The advent of Islam in the early eighth century in the region yielded a new form of architecture that has the potential even today to attract people from all over the world. The Islamic architecture reflected in the pre-Mughal buildings and then the magnificent and the most popular Mughal heritage; all are gems of history which easily fascinate the tourist.

Opportunity – II: Mountain Tourism

Pakistan is also very special because of its unique mountain scenery. Mountain climbing and trekking in Hunza, Karakorams, along the Silk Route and a trip to historic Khyber Pass is a treat in itself.
Mountaineering, however, is no more a growth product – it has reached its saturation point. There are hardly any peaks left now for the mountaineers to conquer. Trekking too is close to saturation. In order to capitalise, therefore, our mountains, our peaks, we need to go for innovation; to attract such tourists who may wish to view our beautiful mountain scenery, find relaxation in its tranquil environs and this would enable us sustain our mountain tourism even if international climbers cease to visit
Opportunity – III: Archeology

In archeology, we have our great Indus Valley Civilization. The excavations at Mehrgarh, Moenjodaro and Harappa are unique experience for any traveler, a ‘Must Visit’ for a tourist who wants to know the origin of humanity. The human teeth found at Mehrgarh, drilled 7000 years ago by a dental surgeon; to relieve a person of the torture of pain is a testimony to the innovation of early man in Mehrgarh (the starting point of Indus Valley Civilisation) can also be an effective marketing tool to make people visit these places

With all these feathers in our cap, where do we stand in the world of tourism?

Tourism statistics of the last decade show, our tourism is a market led industry and not supply driven. This means Pakistan is not encouraging increasing number of tourists to visit the land. Over the years our policy makers, have been making decisions based on outdated statistical information and miscalculated research findings coupled with misleading assumptions. As a result tourism has been misused and mismanaged over the last two decades. This has led to a gradual decline with respect to the public and private sectors and has also contributed to tourism not being taken seriously; excepting only those who are directly dependant on this sector for their livelihoods.

Otherwise too tourism assets have been downgraded, and left to depreciate. They have poor infrastructure and there are hardly any Minimum International Standards (MIS). Due to lack of marketing strategy and funds, Pakistan has no influence in the international marketplace; no new capacity development areas have been identified for the last 20 years for short or medium term strategy purposes. Government’s tourism budget is focused more on fixed expenditures (salaries and establishment) than on research, marketing and promotio

To sum up, what should we do!

There is mistrust among the two wings of the tourism sector i.e., public and the private sector; hence there is a dire need to establish closer liaison between the two. Tourism standards are not heartening in terms of ‘product’ and ‘human resource’. Sites known for cultural heritage; are not adequately protected and are in danger of being systematically plundered. Environment and ecology are at stake owing to lack of control and enforcement

For any tourism industry to flourish, there are primarily six core issues, which need to be reviewed, analyzed, researched, developed and implemented within the given time frame. The implementation process must be monitored strictly by Parliament’s Standing Committee on Culture Sports and Tourism and group of private stakeholders. This should be publicized and communicated to public as well:

1.     Sustainable Tourism Policy and Management
2.     Environment
3.     Infrastructure
4.     Human Resource Training and Development
5.     Funding

Tourism is a tripartite sector and the stated policy is not only implementable but it has to be implemented. Government being responsible for the policy, public sector for implementation and private sector to ensure the results of the policy, fit perfectly into this preview and enhance the development as well as promotion of tourism as a viable sector; which will trigger a sound economic activity creating a range of benefits for the government as well as the people.

Establishment of an effective management structure by streamlining the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and setting up a statutory public-private sector partnership has become inevitable. Tourism is mainly a private sector industry, governments world wide are gradually divesting themselves of the commercial activities of tourism and responding mainly to the supportive responsibility of policy making, monitoring and regulatory standards.

In Pakistan, Tourism Industry’s ratio of fixed costs over marketing and promotion costs are unacceptably high and in view of the enormity of promotional responsibilities to market Pakistan tourism, the variable budget falls short to the point that what small amount of money is spent on promotion has no impact and can be deemed as a wasteful and negative expenditure. To secure its future, Pakistan must invest adequate funds towards tourism; by directing and mobilizing a realistic proportion of the revenues generated for industry support. If the marketing, monitoring, management and maintenance of tourism resources of Pakistan are not adequately funded, the country cannot compete in international tourism and achieve social and economic objectives.

The human resources of federal and provincial ministries have to be reoriented and trained on “International Minimum Standards” instead of only emphasizing on controls, permissions and licenses in hospitality industry, tours and travel, trekking and mountaineering. Safe, comfortable means of transportation, development of roads, rest houses, sanitation and a secure, clean and healthy environment according to Minimum International Standards all provide the parameter to check and measure the performance of public and private sector in Tourism Industry.

Writer is a former Managing Director of the PTDC, Islamabad and presently CEO of ‘Takhleeq’ rendering consultancy on hospitality.

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