Despite the tremendous potential offered in the rural areas to generate livelihood opportunities, a huge chunk of inhabitants continue to migrate to urban areas for better life opportunities.
The government is also keen to generate more employment opportunities in rural areas, which will also reduce the pressure from urban areas. These are massive tasks which require efforts from all stakeholders. I believe tourism could fill the void and can revolutionise the rural economy especially in the northern areas of the country.
I have traveled many a time to Sindh, Punjab and northern areas and discussed with local people why people are migrating to other cities. In contrast to cities, you live in pollution-free air, water and the beautiful natural scenes.
Before the security situation deteriorated, a large chunk of tourists visited Pakistan, especially the northern areas. However, the situation reversed, and has only started to pick pace again.
This is no longer a problem now and there are many tourist hotspots in the northern areas, such as Gilgit-Baltistan and along the Karakoram Highway.
Can tourism industry be saved?
As many as 1.72 million visited Gilgit-Baltistan between 2017 and 2018, marking a considerable growth compared to 0.5 million tourists who visited during the corresponding period the year before, according to local media reports.
These visits have brought Rs300 million in revenue for the local economy during the last few years.
However, I found a number of issues hampering the growth of tourism in this region which includes lack of facilities to travel for national and international tourists, such as hotels, roads, Internet/network services and a dearth of media marketing to facilitate tourists. Meanwhile, environmental degradation is also a matter of concern.
Presently, accommodation facilities in Gilgit-Baltistan consist of approximately 140 hotels of various grades with an overall capacity of 2,600 rooms, 30 government rest houses, and three tourist facilitation centres at entry points, according to the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation.
If the government arranges a flight once a week for foreign and local tourists to visit Sindh’s heritage sites, it can generate more revenue for aviation and local people can add to their incomes as well.
PIA commences direct flights from Lahore to northern areas
Tourism-related facilities also need to be ensured in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, which could help generate local businesses Rs1 billion every year. To further attract tourists, the Gilgit-Baltistan government needs to take practical steps such as regional and national exhibitions, cultural festivals, etc.
Most importantly, government should ensure the security and safety for tourists travelling to these areas, such as building infrastructure, rest houses, shops for antique and cultural goods, government and private sector-travelling guides and operators, cellular operators. The government and/or the private sectors can also arrange cultural and theatre shows for tourist.
After these developments, urban areas may also see a lower burden to generate employment. Instead, what we will see is that local people would get jobs in their vicinity, live and spend their life close to the family and they will not need to migrate to search for a job in urban areas.
The tourism boost is not just necessary for the industry — this is for the overall benefit of the economy.
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The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners
Parvez Jabri has over 20 years of professional experience, and currently works as a Senior Sub Editor at Business Recorder.
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