By Dr. Saeed Ahmad Ali
LAHORE:The unmatched natural-scenic beauty of Pakistan and Kashmir regions has a great attraction for both domestic and international tourists, famous all around the world for its sky touching mountains, green valleys, mighty rivers, beautiful lakes and variety of amazing wild life.
Geographically and ethnically, Pakistan is a unique country in the world having diversity of historical, archaeological heritage, spiritual and cultural sites, providing tourists rich classical opportunities to visit ancient Indus Valley Civilization, Mughal-British Era buildings, monuments and religious places which are equally important, related to Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in its research report had revealed that Pakistan’s more than US $ 20 Billion Tourism Industry was booming rapidly with a trend forecast that this sector could be further grown to around US $ 40 billion during the next decade.
The Punjab Government in collaboration with the Planning and Development (P&D) department and the World Bank (WB) has announced the road infrastructure development plan of six tourist-spots under its Tourism for Economic Growth Project (TEGP).This is a welcoming sign that Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar has laid the foundation stone of this project.
In the first inaugurated-phase, of this plan, the roads’ infrastructure will be developed with a cost of Rs 830 million , while improving and revamping of the 35 kilometer long roads would be completed, the CM has assured.To promote and adopt digital tourism mechanism, a total of 176 rest houses at the tourism venues have been opened for the tourists and general public, which could now be booked through on-line facility, Buzdar informed.
Punjab Minister for Youth Affair, Sports, Archaeology and Tourism Rai Taimoor Khan, while talking to APP said the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government was taking result oriented and exemplary initiatives in promoting digital-tourism to project the country’s exact tourism potential both at national and international levels.
The government by adopting effective and open policies in this sector was successfully projecting the historical destinations of the province by hiring the services of noted bloggers, v-loggers across the province, so that the tourists and young generation could get awareness about the country’s rich heritage and identity, the minister added.
He said Punjab province has multi-billion dollar potential and was blessed with an unbelievable rich heritage, adding that the incumbent PTI government was giving top priority to digital media, which has proved to be a successful and effective tool in this sector so far.The Punjab government during the budget 2019-20, had earmarked an amount of Rs 1187.734 million to spend on 18 new schemes, while during 2020-21 budget Rs 400 million for the tourism sector’s new and existing projects.
Recently, the British Backpackers Society (BBS) in its report has termed Pakistan as one of the friendliest countries on the planet, while ranking it on the top destination for tourism with stunning mountains and plain scenery.This report was calculated by a vote numbering count, carried out through polls of its members which included adventure travel experts from across the globe.
Meanwhile, it is worth mentioning here that earlier, according to a study which was carried out by the World Bank, it had identified 23 major tourist sites across the province, which would be outsourced by engaging male and female youth in the tourism sector, by giving them representation and taking them on board in most economic and policy making activities.
Advisor to CM Punjab for tourism, Asif Mehmood told APP that no stone would be left unturned to develop Punjab as a tourist destination-hub, adding that a comprehensive strategy and practical steps were being taken to fulfill the Prime Minister Imran khan’s Tourism vision.
To a query he said that due to the bold initiatives of the incumbent PTI government, an upsurge in tourism sector, during the years 2018-2020 had been witnessed, as the Punjab government, while following the vision of the prime minister Imran khan had removed all barriers to get a ‘No Objection Certificate (NOC)’ for the tourists allowing them to visit every nook and corner of the country, and to enjoy the scenic mountainous beauty and historical areas of the choice they prefer.
In the salt range, a ‘Tourism Zone’ is being developed which including Chakwal, Mianwali and Khushab districts and new tourist-spots were also going to be opened in Jhelum, Chakwal, Kotli Sattian, Soan Valley, Mianwali, Attock, Fort Munro (DG Khan) and Koh-e-Suleman, Multan and Bahawalpur, he added.
Punjab, being the largest and thickly populated province has a wide range of natural places of sports, eco, agro and desert tourism sectors in Cholistan and Thal Deserts, he said, while replying to another query. A document of the Tourism Development Corporation Punjab (TDCP) reveals that besides Soan Valley, Salt Range, Urban and recreational tourism, the Punjab agricultural fields’ landscape beauty provides rich tourist attractions in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Narowal, Multan and Bahawalpur regions.
Meanwhile, Punjab Economic Report (PER) which had been issued recently points out that the current Sikh tourism potential in the province was around US $ 34 million with 85,000 jobs, while through Buddhist tourism around US $ 17 million could be generated with around 35,000 jobs.
Similarly, Punjab Growth Strategy (PGS)-2023 document in its report observes that the Punjab province has the potential to generate annually around US $ two billion worth of income in the tourism sector, and the domestic tourism has a potential around US $ one billion per year with 250,000 jobs available.It is pertinent to mention here that the Punjab government had earlier requested the World Bank the provision of assistance of financial and technical resources to multiply tourism sector opportunities in the province.