Pakistan is considered to be one of the best tourist destinations in the world encompassing landscapes and archeological sites that are breathtaking, enthralling and riveting. Tourism is one of the fastest growing industry throughout the world, may it be in the countries with natural beauty, historical assets or man-made tourist spots. Pakistan, which is blessed with rich beauty along with innumerable historical places, artwork, religious heritage and cultural assets, has not been very successful in attracting tourists. In recent years, we have seen a much higher number of tourists thanks to policies of the government aimed at promoting tourism, but we still have a long way to go.
International tourism accounts for 29% of total world’s services exports and it makes 7% of overall exports. In some regions these proportions exceed the world average, especially the Middle East and Africa, where tourism represents over 50% of services exports and about 9% of exports overall. These countries have evolved over the period of time in tourism. Pakistan, due to its versatile geography, has immense potential to augment its economy by promoting tourism. Switzerland, which is half the size of what Pakistan’s northern areas cover, earned about $34 billion in 2020 from tourism, while Pakistan makes $21.4 billion from our total exports. Countless opportunities exist for Pakistan to promote the tourism industry as Pakistan is home to versatile physical features ranging from mountains, beautiful valleys, lakes in the north, deserts, beautiful coast line in the south, heritage sites covering religious, cultural, domestic art and mesmerizing architectural wonders in the central part of the country. Unfortunately, we have not yet explored the potential of the beauty of Pakistan to its maximum. It will not be wrong to say, that so far we have explored the potential of tourism in Pakistan equivalent to the tip of an iceberg even though Pakistan offers a wide spectrum of tourist attractions ranging from religious places for Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, etc., to ancient civilizations of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, etc., apart from all the natural beauty it has to offer.
One of the reasons for lagging behind in the tourism industry is that this industry much like others has little female representation. The cultural, religious and social restrictions on women do not encourage their participation in the industry. We have come a long way in terms of removing gender parity in many fields, but tourism is still a little behind.
Women-owned businesses are at a bare minimum in Pakistan because females face different hurdles. They have to struggle to be taken seriously in the business community and must learn the art of business and family life balance. Gains from empowering women are substantial in human development, economic and social development of a country. Countries, where tourism industry involves both the genders equally, have proven to make full utilization of their tourism industry. When women are economically empowered, economies grow and nations are better placed to reap positive developmental outcomes.
To remove this gender gap in tourism industry, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women has devised an action plan for women entrepreneurship based on the essential findings and recommendations of the Global Report on Women in Tourism, 2020. Mainly, the action plan revolves around formalizing women-owned tourism business, financial incentives for women and supporting women in expansion of their tourism products and services. Along with that, introduction of measures to improve work-life balance of women entrepreneurs, giving them access to internet and latest marketing platforms where they can perform their task remotely has also been emphasized.
Pakistan’s tourism potential cannot reach its zenith without the inclusion of women in this industry. They should be given equal opportunities with some incentive programs to ensure their presence for longer run in the industry. Our women face many challenges when they enter the market. Loan disbursement is one of the most challenging hurdles that keeps women away from business. Only 3% loans are availed by women from banks, as compared to 97% that are disbursed to men, according to the recent Gender-wise gross loan distribution report by the State Bank of Pakistan. Even in the case of micro-financing, women make up only 19% of the loans. Advocacy is essential in order to provide ease of doing business for women entrepreneurs.
Some women-owned Pakistani startups are now arising with unique ideas to promote tourism in Pakistan. They are working with an aim to spread the word about places to visit, both through digital social platforms and print media, along with encouraging responsible travel within the country. One such women-owned group is Root Network, which is actively seen creating a sustainable tourism industry in Pakistan by encouraging the travelers to visit far off, scenic places without disturbing the local life there.
Tourist places predominantly are in the remote areas of North or South, where opportunities to access digital world are few, and availability to women is even more limited.
In order to remove the gender gap from this industry, we need to raise this concern frequently on bigger platforms. Business chambers, government institutes and women associations should rise and join hands in organizing national mobilization programs for women entrepreneurs in tourism. The government will have to create programs that can lead to ecotourism, socially responsible travel initiatives and networking opportunities. A robust support system with mentors and advisors is needed to be formed to help women succeed as new entrepreneurs. Women should be educated in hospitality and hotel management.
Most concerning issues afflicting tourism are dearth of financial schemes for tourism businesses, connecting tourism businesses worldwide, terrorism, safety of female travelers, inconvenient rates of basic needs at tourist spots by the locals, easy access programs to digital world, etc. These problems largely deter the international audience from visiting Pakistan.
In order to help women in tourism industry, there is need to invest in the infrastructural development. A number of serene places are not visited by the visitors, because they are either underdeveloped or are dangerous to visit because of the roads connecting them to the city. It is crucial that the government discovers and develops such spots as tourist destinations, and conducts awareness sessions to publicize tourist spots through social and print media. Infrastructure includes road network, railway tracks, and electricity supply channels, availability of gas, basic healthcare facilities and amenities.
A tourist friendly environment with trained staff inclusive of men and women, is important to create a tourist spot attractive for visitors especially foreign visitors. Government should work on implementing easier policies including a simpler visa regime, multi-lingual facilitation desks for tourists, high-quality hotels and restaurants, and provision of safety and security along with establishing a proper tourist rights’ framework, regulating the rates of accommodation, and access to internet and mobile networks in the areas which are attractive because of their beauty but are neglected by the tourists because of lack of these facilities.
We, as a society, have decided upon stereotypical roles for women in the house and outside. Women are encouraged to adopt professions like medicine, nursing, teaching, etc. We need to grow out of our societal stereotypes and let women do what they are good at professionally. Women should be encouraged to join hospitality sector to support tourism industry. Several existing challenges are plaguing tourism industry of Pakistan. Stringent measures need to be taken to overcome these challenges. Before blaming anyone, we should look into the social issues faced by women in the tourism industry. Steps should be taken to empower women as entrepreneurs and take steps in facilitating them with technical, financial and digital assistance. Loan schemes for small and medium tenure, should be advanced to women on subsidized rates that will help women get financially strong. Most of the women cannot avail the loans and grow their small businesses because of unawareness, so steps should be taken to ensure that even women living in the remotest areas are aware of their existence.
Only by unlocking the true potential of tourism industry, will Pakistan become able to bring about a revolution in improving the economy and creating business opportunities. And for that, we need to work hard together, without any gender discrimination and involving women to the industry the more, the better.
Tourism revival and women-owned businesses can play a crucial role in the amelioration of the country’s economy. We as a society ought to recognize the importance of small scale women-owned businesses. Regarding tourism industry, initiatives should be taken and worked upon diligently for the progress and prosperity of Pakistan. HH
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