On YouTube, there are dozens of videos – if not more – of influencers, mostly white women, promoting Pakistan as a tourist destination. Their words have a certain value. Certainly, Pakistan has some of the most beautiful mountain sites and picturesque beaches in the world. But it is important to look at the reality that exists on the ground.
Some of these realities were highlighted in the disaster we saw on the road leading from Islamabad to Murree and on the highway leading to the same destination in Murree and then to Galiyat. It is one of the most accessible parts of the country for tourists and therefore frequently visited. The utter failure on the part of the Murree administration to keep cars from climbing despite snow storm warnings and the five to six foot snowfall then underway in many parts of Galiyat is a complete disaster. This shows how unprepared the country is to handle tourism, even in the most accessible and popular places, or to deal with the demands of tourists.
People should have been warned well in advance that it was not safe to travel to these areas and rent, as usually happens in other alpine destinations, the necessary equipment, such as snow chains. placed around the tires, or authorities should have told people what to do if they run into trouble. The fact that it took authorities so long to acknowledge the scale of the disaster in which at least 23 people died, including eight family members of an Islamabad ASI who left a voicemail describing the situation emergency and the inability of the authorities to rescue him is a telling story of tourism in our country.
But beyond this one-time disaster, it is also true that there is still much to be done to promote tourism and make Pakistan a tourist paradise on the scale of that of neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka and Nepal or other countries. other distant countries. out of places like UAE, Seychelles, Maldives, Malaysia, Bali etc. We have more beautiful landscapes than other nations and many more places of historical interest. But the problem is that when people traveling to Gilgit or Skardu have limited accommodation options – and that too at high rates, when no amenities such as working ski lifts – even on the slopes by Malam Jabba – is not available, and when so much is prohibited – such as music and alcoholic beverages – promoting tourism becomes a challenge. It is also difficult to see how to promote the pristine beaches of Balochistan as a tourist site, given that it is not possible for people, especially women, to enter the waters in swimsuits or practice the usual beach activities.
And while it can be argued that these activities can go against our culture, Muslim-majority countries like the UAE have managed to balance religion and tourism and merge them perfectly. They enabled tourists to enjoy their vacation and not be left terrified by a raid or an attempt to bribe the police into not reporting an incident and created a relaxed atmosphere in shopping malls, malls and other sites they continue to visit. set up around the small country.
We must also recognize that the images we see on YouTube and other channels are not exactly accurate. It is hard to imagine solo travellers, leaving a foreign woman alone, traversing Hingol National Park in Balochistan on their own without facing any danger or the threat of possible danger. While Pakistanis are extremely hospitable, they also face a host of challenges – kidnappings for ransom, attacks on foreigners, bombings and other similar incidents that we have seen in recent years.
Beyond that, we must also think about local tourism. Again, we need to structure our areas like Murree in a way that helps it retain its immense beauty. Unplanned vertical constructions – one house on top of another – and hotels that just don’t match the landscape, but seem better suited to some sort of fairy tale set in an Arabian country with tall minarets and tiles as ‘they charge high rates, and there have been scuffles in the past between locals, keen to protect other tourists and also their own local women, and groups of young men who have stormed into hotels, then acted like hooligans.
The same issues have arisen in other places, such as a rave in an area of Gilgit that was harshly criticized by locals who said such activity was against their culture. Questions like this need to be negotiated carefully. Authorities need to sit down with local elders and find an acceptable way that doesn’t offend anyone. And speaking of culture, we must also remember that the culture of groups such as the Kalash must also be protected.
Local tourism has also increased as road infrastructure has improved. But there were a few downsides that remain unaddressed. So many areas in Kaghan, Swat and other places are now filled with rubbish after tourist expeditions destroying the ecology and beauty of these places. Residents have in many cases, especially in Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu, formed teams to collect rubbish and dispose of it better. They also complained about visitor behavior in the areas. But this cannot be sustained. Tourists must be educated on how to protect the beauty of their homeland. The same goes for historical sites in cities like Lahore.
Pakistan must look to other Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to build its tourist paradise. This can be easily achieved as the Maldives, Malaysia and other Muslim countries have also been able to turn into highly visited tourist countries. But we must have the will and the conscience to do so and recognize that the relaxations linked to tourism will not undermine our faith or our beliefs. They will only strengthen them and provide valuable income to our nation.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former editor of a newspaper. She can be reached at: