One of the major promises of the PTI government has been to boost the tourism industry to improve the economy, and as far as ideas ago, this is both sensible and practical. Pakistan holds many diversified geographical wonders within its territory and allowing for international and domestic tourists to take advantage of this could lead to a significant boost to exports.

The government has already taken some initial steps to reinvigorate the tourism industry; from allowing many countries the visa-on-arrival status and facilitating the process through e-visas for others, the government has removed a major impediment in allowing for foreigners to visit the country. There has also been an attempt to set up guest houses in various destinations across the country and many prominent international and local social media personalities have helped the cause by featuring the many sights Pakistan has in their content.

Add this to the fact that the past five years have seen a sharp increase in tourism of cultural sights in the country – by over 100 percent in some cases – it would seem that the industry is on the rise, and the government is taking the right steps to bolster it. However, the many positives notwithstanding, Pakistan is quite a long way away from becoming a tourist hotspot, much like Sri Lanka, Thailand or even India for its cultural tourism. The government can focus on making sure that the process to visit Pakistan is made simpler, can provide better spaces for foreigners to spend their time in the country, but there are other systemic problems that need to be addressed if we are to ensure that we keep on bolstering the tourism industry.

Fundamental among these is the question of security; which in this case does not refer to terrorism, but the nature of the Pakistan state currently. With no-go areas in every city for foreigners, and many areas on both the eastern and western borders still inaccessible, Pakistan needs to shrug off the label of a security state if we are to truly usher in an era of increased tourism in the country. The government must understand that the state of the industry is intrinsically linked to other societal issues as well; apart from security another important change we need to make is the treatment of minorities. A cursory look at the news in Pakistan for a foreign traveller would be intimidating if they come across instances of violence against anyone who is not Muslim, or even a little different in any other way. Issues of religion, ethnicity and all others need to be resolved if we want more visitors from outside the country. Healing the tourist industry is an admirable goal, but can only be achieved in the long run and only if we look to counter societal problems, instead of just offering tourists nice rooms to stay in.