Like any other Pakistani who was born in 90s, I was happy, sad, uncertain, hopeful, excited and frightened whenever I thought about, or looked at, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s idea of Naya Pakistan. What will Naya Pakistan be like? Or to put it simply, what will be Naya in Naya Pakistan? Will it change my life, choices I make or decisions I take or what I wear or eat? More specifically, I was more concerned about the charisma Khan carries out and his agenda to make Pakistan ‘a thing of beauty’ which must be viewed by everyone with their naked eyes. Being a tour operator, I have been a bit more interested in Khan’s policies concerning tourism and Khan’s fresh thinking and unique plans for its upgradation.

Imran Khan’s government invited English/Western bloggers to promote tourism through creating a soft, tourist-friendly image of the country. A summit, many conferences and meetings had been called in to work out on the idea. The government also changed its visa policy so that those wishing to visit Pakistan shall not face any difficulty on technical grounds. Everyone appreciated these efforts. Tour operators loved it for them it was about to expand business and profit. Pakistan was all set to welcome foreigners and earn money and good name at the same time without spending much. The hope was that the people will come in and help us strengthen our economy.

For someone who has been in the field for many years, the intentions of the government were both encouraging and noble. But, as a matter of fact, what Khan’s team lacked was substantial policy framework which created some serious questions about the future of the plans. There has been no serious, composed and comprehensive policy to address the challenges Pakistan is facing regarding tourism. The disassociation or unnoticed detachment of the policy makers from the ground realties, I fear, may not allow Khan’s idea of Naya Pakistan get transformed into a concrete reality in the field of tourism.

Before mentioning in detail the challenges Pakistan is facing at the moment, I would like to sum up my argument. If Pakistan does not take into account the prevailing challenges at ground, it’ll be difficult to make sustainable progress in the industry. The focus of the government to let the people from western countries come here and explore natural beauty of Pakistan may create more problems than it resolves. If a single tourist gets hurt in our country, the western media along with their Indian counterparts shall not only slam Pakistan but also may create a narrative which will again raise serious questions about the culture of Pakistan.

In my opinion (after repeatedly visiting northern areas of the country) there are certain challenges Pakistan has to deal with on preferential basis:

Absence of infrastructure

There is no adequate infrastructure developed by the government which might have been helpful for the tourists. For instance, in many areas there are no roads and at some places roads are in poor condition. Similarly, land sliding blocks all the roads sometimes and there is no effective measure to let the people commute safely. Every other tour operator will let you know that they have experienced some serious and perennial challenges due to the absence of adequate infrastructure.

Where to stay?

There are hotels and restaurants but in very limited number. Does the government have any idea that what happens in these areas if tourists are more than expected in number? How will foreign tourists manage to stay in such areas if they decide to come in? Moreover, is there any policy mechanism to have a check over these hotels to fix the prices and fare? If not, is there anything on the cards to address such serious issues?

Sociological challenges

This is something we Pakistanis are not comfortable to talk about. There is a misperception about ourselves that we’re extra-caring and hospitable people. Such assertions have some elements of truth but cannot be treated as a final word. Local people in northern areas are generally good but overtly protective of their own culture and have some unrestrained economic interests which usually lead to exploitation of the tourists if they are not accompanied by a tour operator. Has government made any effort to make local culture inclusive or tourist-friendly? In my opinion, it is ultimately the responsibility of the government (carried out through district administration) to protect both the locals and the tourists. 

To conclude; the government of Pakistan needs to take into account all the problems we are facing today before it invites people from across the world. If the government does not take into account the problems I have outlined above, the overall romance with tourism may lose its sheen in the coming days if God forbid one bad incident takes place.