ISLAMABAD-Adverse impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the national economy underlines the need for plucking the low hanging fruits to spur economic activities and job creation in the country. Tourism industry, as compared to other sectors, has emerged as the lowest-hanging fruit which can easily be plucked and helped generate thousands of employment opportunities in the country, especially in rural areas that house most of the tourist attractions. The phenomenon is backed by the theme of this year world tourism day titled ‘Tourism and Rural Development’. The day is being celebrated across the globe under the patronage of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), with resounding commitments and vows of bringing prosperity to the underprivileged areas through tourism promotion. It also underscores the importance of preserving culture and heritage in those areas.

Nevertheless, tourism is one of the sectors that hit by the contagion badly. The fact was also endorsed by the UNWTO, which has pointed out 22 per cent decline in arrival of international tourists during the first quarter of 2020. According to the UNTWO, the crisis could lead to an annual decline of between 60 per cent and 80 per cent when compared with 2019 figures. The phenomenon also put million of livelihoods at risk. But the silver lining is that the sector has full potential to bounce back, subject to the inclusive steps of the authorities concerned. “Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 has put really bad impact on tourism sector but the present government is fully prepared to reverse the situation by introducing bundle on new initiatives for tourism promotion in Pakistan,” said National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) member Qamar Abbas Naqvi. He said Prime Minister Imran Khan was fully committed to flourish tourism sector in the country, with major focus on rural areas that possessed most of tourist sites in the country. Qamar said the coronavirus had declined in the country and the situation was quite better now, with the economy on positive trajectory. The government had been taking bundle of initiatives to boost tourism activities in the country. It had created a space for the private sector, encouraging them to take lead in the tourism promotion, he added. “Tourism and rural areas development has strong bond as most of tourist destinations of the country are situated in rural areas,” said a senior officer of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC), commenting on this year theme of the ‘World Tourism Day’.

He said tourism sector played important role in development of rural areas as it created enormous job opportunities for the locals and unskilled labour. The provincial governments had been exploring new sites and focusing on their development, he added. The officer said the government was fully cognizant of the situation, erupted after the pandemic that was why it had evolved a comprehensive plan for holistic promotion of the country tourism, encompassing leisure, religious, adventure, coastal and others at the international level by capturing digital market. The programme would be rolled out soon to pave the way for promoting the country as a best tourist destination abroad. Under the project, he said an initiative- Brand Pakistan- had been prepared to introduce the country as a customized brand across the globe. An exclusive tourism portal was also in final stages that meant to promote the country’s tourist attractions across the world through virtual galleries, videos and documentaries. The officer said that the portal would provide a world class exposure to Pakistan’s tourist attractions through one click. The portal would consist of a user-friendly interface to interact with the prospective tourists and give them necessary and latest information about the country’s tourist attractions. He said a ten-year road-map to invigorate tourism industry was also on the cards. The ‘National Tourism Strategy (NTS) 2020-2030’ would ensure maximum utilization of its huge resources for sustained economic growth, poverty alleviation and reduced social inequalities. He said the strategy was guided by a vision (2020-2030) that envisages, a mature, sustainable and responsible tourism industry contributing significantly to the economic development of Pakistan and the quality of life of all her people, primarily through job creation, social inclusion and economic growth. “NTS will raise the industry’s competitiveness and ensure maximum utilization of Pakistan’s natural, cultural, historical and geographical assets.” 

He said salient features of the strategy included sustained economic growth, employment creation, poverty reduction, safety and security of tourists, roads and efficient transport services, comfortable and hygienic accommodation and restaurants, value shopping, efficient telecommunication services and access to quality health services. As a part of National Tourism strategy, he said a five-year National Tourism Strategy Action Plan (2020-2025) had also been prepared that provided a road-map for an effective implementation of the strategic efforts to boost tourism.