The United World Tourism Barometer (UNWTO) had recorded a 12 per cent increase in the growth of tourism in South Asia in 2017. Yet none of this growth extended to Pakistan, nor did any of the benefits derived from such growth spill over to our country. There need to be serious initiatives taken in tourism ministries, which, after the passing of the 18th amendment, are relegated to the provinces.

This statistic has reached the Punjab government, which seems to be taking action upon bringing progress and cover the tourism opportunities we have lost. The Punjab cabinet, in its 15th meeting, has approved the first Punjab Tourism Policy, which aims to make Punjab an attractive tourist destination and usher in economic growth from tourism in these designated areas.

If there was any province which ought to have taken the lead, it was Punjab. Being a province of diversity, blended cultures and historical sites, as well as the most populated region which carries the bulk of the national economy, security and tourism in Punjab will translate to more tourism in all other provinces, and bolster economic success in the whole of Pakistan. Thus, it was essential that in order to facilitate tourism in all parts of the country, special attention needed to be paid to Punjab. The fact that this area was neglected is seen in that this is the first ever Punjab Tourism Policy- while there has been continuous talks of a policy, it has usually been left to drafts and never approved formally by the cabinet.

The new policy approved is comprehensive and brings in many new and innovative ideas, which if implemented properly, could lead to progress. The most notable feature is the policy’s focus on environment friendly tourism- the government plans to develop and sell its landscape heritage and archaeological assets – without disturbing socio-ecological balance in close collaboration with private sector. This was a necessary clarification since the Punjab government has run into deadlocks before due to environment concerns, seen by the long delay of the Orange Line Project. Secondly, exclusive to Punjab and its unique history, the government plans to tap in potential for religious tourism, which would mean developing and preserving religious sites of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Islam.

From the meeting, the policy seems strong and comprehensive; however, the difficult task is implementation and maintaining the momentum for change. While the tourism department has agreed to formulate a detailed implementation plan, mix-ups in the department, particularly that of the Tourism Minister Raja Yasir Humayun, who has recently been removed, are not good omens of things to come.