PM Khan’s desire to put Pakistan on the global tourism map is proving to be addictive. Granted that squeezing wallets of domestic households, which makes foreign travel expensive, is partly the reason behind growing interest in domestic tourism. But Khan’s marketing efforts and the ensuing campaign helped by foreign and domestic v-loggers has also helped a great deal – after all, all that was needed was someone to take off the veil from the natural beauty that Pakistan’s landscape is. And now, with the first Balochistan Tourism Seminar held this week, Balochistan is trying to ride the same band wagon.
Whether or not Balochistan will be successful in its plans, depends on a host of right ingredients. But it must. Success is the only option it has got. For far too long Balochistan has been left on the fringes while the rest of the country prospered. The province needs money, skilled people, and whole lot of change in perception. It needs all this and much more to develop the potential it offers in the myriad of industries related to mines & minerals, livestock, agriculture, energy, fisheries and tourism.
But of all these areas, tourism seems to be the lowest hanging fruit, followed by perhaps fisheries. This is because compared to tourism, most other sectors such as mines & minerals, and energy require much longer gestation period as well as legal, financial, project management and other kinds of technical expertise that Balochistan does not currently have at its disposal.
Developing tourism may not help Balochistan attract tons of earnings, using which it can finance other cash heavy projects. But it can change the perception, and help create a soft and positive image, which is usually the first step towards attracting investments and the eco-system necessary to support that investment.
Balochistan has a lot of places and activities to offer to those who have a lust to wander. From food trail to religious journeys, and from starry desert nights of Dasht to a yet unthought-of guided horseback tours in Hingol National Park, the province offers great beauty and a therapeutic sense of a solitude that can change Balochistan’s perception from a wild west to a see-must.
But practically speaking, it is the coastal belt that offers the lowest of the low hanging fruits. This is because it is the coastal belt that can attract families, which in Pakistan’s case usually come in XL-size, and thereby offer enough numbers to make tourism investments feasible. Clearly, starry nights of Dasht will not attract typical Pakistani families until a distant future.
But since Balochistan is starting off from a clean slate, it must learn from the mistakes of others. Unless its people and the government are happy to see the province’s tourist sights swamped by garbage, sewerage and other forms of pollution as has been the case of many beaches in Karachi and valleys in the north, sustainability must be at the heart of every provincial tourism policy and action. Second, if Balochistan government wants its citizens to be gainfully employed in the tourism industry, it will have to seriously improve its game in training the province’s service sector workers and staff. It’s one thing to boast that Balochis and all other Pakistanis are a hospitable lot; it’s another to excel in hospitality industry. (See also Can tourism drive Pakistan?, Oct 17, 2019)