In recent years, Pakistan has made it to top slots on various lists of the most travel-worthy destinations because of its picturesque landscapes, rich culture and heritage, and incredibly hospitable people. The best thing about Pakistan is that it offers natural, peaceful and uncommercialized tourism. It is a nature lover’s paradise. All this raised hopes about a boost in the tourism sector and resultant dividends not only for the national economy but also for local communities and individuals; the government realizes this potential and is making policies to promote this sector.
However, due to COVID-19 and subsequent restrictions, we could not take advantage of the incredible landscape of opportunities that tourism industry has to offer. Nevertheless, the third wave of the pandemic is abating thanks to the concerted efforts of the government and Pakistan Army, and the vaccination drive; life is coming back to normal, slowly but surely. Tourist destinations are also now open and hence, we need to gear up to make up for the lost time. For this, continuous improvements have to be made in the quality of not only the available infrastructure, services, ease of access, etc., for tourists but the local tourism entrepreneurs also have to be facilitated to manage their businesses so that they could give a better experience to the tourists who make it to their localities.
Whether the target tourists are local or international, tourism helps create an undeniably positive impact on local communities. However, due to the pandemic, international tourists are not being able to reach Pakistan as easily as they used to; for the short term, therefore, we have to rely on the local tourists to support the tourism industry. Therein lies a challenge; local tourism generally swings towards all-male groups or families. This leaves out a big chunk of potential tourists, i.e., women, who want to travel solo, with their female friends, or who do not have a male member of family to travel with them. There is great need of diversification from traditional tourism if we want to grow this sector.
Pakistan is generally a safe place for women to travel on their own but there are still certain measures that need to be taken in order to remove the hurdles for females travelling on their own. The relative absence of women-specific provisions makes tourism for women difficult, so there is need for, e.g., travel companies that cater to female-only groups in providing them secure travel arrangements, accommodation, and guided tours, etc. More infrastructure and facilities are also required around the routes to travel destinations. More vigilant security apparatus is also needed to remove the fear factor from minds of women and their families when it comes to their travelling on their own.
Security, in particular, is important for not only the tourists but also tourism-related businesses. While tourism may not be the complete solution to helping local economies of tourist destinations, it is certainly a large part of it and its impact is not limited to tourism-related businesses only. Tourism in general spreads the money and has a profound effect on poverty alleviation and in helping the local communities become self-sustaining. Tourism strengthens a community’s retail base.; communities that sell to tourists have significantly more retail establishments and diverse mix of products and services. Thus, virtually any type of business is able to benefit from local tourism. Tourism offers a consistent flow of income into a region, which can be relied upon by small businesses. Growth of small businesses and creating jobs (specifically by and for women) are some of the biggest advantages of tourism, as this encourages small and niche businesses to grow and hire locally. This, in turn, has a domino effect on local suppliers and demand, as they cater to the needs of the guests and customers. Women can greatly benefit from tourism by bringing in more income to their families and raising their living standards as well as providing more opportunities for education of their children.
Tapping into the potential of the tourism sector can be a win-win for everyone involved, but to do this the existing model of tourism in the country has to evolve and become more inclusive and facilitative for almost half the population of Pakistan, on both ends of the spectrum – traveller and business. HH
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