LAHORE - The Punjab government has decided to send a high-level delegation to Sri Lanka to study their tourism industry, in a move to promote tourism in the province.

An exposure visit has been arranged for officials of the Punjab government from September 8-11. The purpose of the visit is to look for ways to build knowledge partnerships, share best practices and explore the opportunity for joint training to enhance culturally and heritage tourism sector in Pakistan. Since the visit is sponsored by World Bank, the provincial government will not bear any financial cost.

The government delegation will meet with Sri Lanka tourism board, Buddhist scholars, academia, and representatives from media, marketing, hotel industry and private sector.

After the approval from the Punjab CM, the officers including Planning and Development Secretary Capt (r) Iftikhar Sahoo, Tourism Secretary Nayyar Iqbal, TDCP MD Ahmar Malik and Punjab Resource Management Deputy Program Director Shehryar Anis will visit Lanka.

One of the famous sites in Sri Lanka is a footprint measuring 5’7” by 2’6”. It is believed to be the footprint of the Prophet Adam (AS) who was said to be 60 cubits tall. It is located on the top of a mountain in Sri Lanka called Adam’s Peak, also known as Sri Pada - the Holy Footprint.

Pakistan is also full of such sites and needs focus of the governments to promote them.

During last year up to November, the Sri Lanka Tourism recorded 18.1% growth on arrivals with 1.5 million arrivals. The total tourism revenue generated was US$2.2 billion. At this backdrop, the tourism promotional plan of year 2016 is formulated based on five key strategic objectives.

Attracting a target number of 2.5 million visitors with 26% annual growth, increasing average daily expenditure of a tourist up to US$200 and average stay, contributing to generate a total tourism revenue up to US$2.75 billion will be the key performance measures.

Uplifting Sri Lanka’s brand value up to US$80 million through tactical marketing campaigns focusing on main product offerings of the county will serve as the overall goal of the promotional strategy devised for 2016.

A total of 1.27 million visitors came to the island in 2013 - an increase of an enormous 26.7 percent compared to the previous year.

An outlook to future development: The strategic development plan of Sri Lanka Tourism strives for 1.5 million visitors in total (130,000 from Germany) in 2014, 2.5 million in 2016 and 4 million in 2020. At the same time the tourism related employment is supposed to increase from 125,000 in 2010 to 500,000 by 2016, tourism based industry and services are to be expanded and the economic benefits of tourism shall be distributed to a larger cross section of the society.

The Pakistan cultural ad Heritage Tourism Project of world Bank group is a five year project to assist the government of Punjab to optimally exploit the potentials of recreational, adventure, cultural historical and heritage tourism.

Punjab has great potential to attract tourism especially regarding religious tourism for Sikhs and Buddist sites. Approximately, 40 percent of the world tourism revenue is linked to religious tourism and this is a market with tremendous potential that Pakistan has yet to develop.

As per TDCP data, in collaboration with World Bank, the cultural heritage potential in Punjab will be improved. Various historical and cultural sites such as Gurdwaras; of Sikh Religion and Stupas and remains of Buddhism will also be developed. In collaboration with federal government, visa for tourists/ pilgrims visiting Pakistan and Punjab will be facilitated.

Official sources said that the culture and heritage tourism could be turned into an important source and engine for employment in the country. The five most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs are located in Punjab. A study commissioned by the Punjab government estimates that if proper facilities are provided and marketing efforts made, tourism from the Sikh diaspora could easily reach 30,000 tourists a year. The economic impact would then increase from $5m dollars to an estimated $300m per year.

Experts believe promoting the cultural and heritage tourism sector will not only help promote economic development and better protect cultural heritage, but also help project a softer image of Pakistan to the world.

It is to be noted that in the regional tourism conference held on March 27-28 2016 in Lahore where the director general of tourism development authority of Sri Lanka was in attendance, it was recognised that Sri Lanka and Pakistan can mutually benefit from knowledge sharing and partnerships.