Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan while addressing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek highlighted the need for joint strategy to develop tourism in SCO member states, as DND news agency reported. His vision supports a long-awaited desire of tourism stakeholders of Central Asia as well as of United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Formation of a SCO Tourism Board can be the first step towards achieving targets for a joint tourism industry.
The SCO is an intergovernmental organization composed of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan and wad founded in Shanghai in 2001. Originally formed as a confidence-building forum to demilitarize borders, the organization’s goals and agenda have since broadened to include increased military and counter-terrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing. The SCO has also intensified its focus on regional economic initiatives like the recently-announced integration of the China-led Silk Road Economic Belt and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.
Pakistan and India are two adversaries within SCO member states, therefore, thinking of a joint visa strategy between arch rivals is just a dream but can be thought of with the formation of an SCOTB (SCO Tourism Board) which may provide an opportunity for both countries to realize benefits of peace through tourism.
Leaving Pakistan and India aside, other SCO countries can move ahead for a joint strategy to promote tourism in SCO member states, and there is a possibility that Pakistan and India in the future understand the benefits of a joint tourism strategy.
It is believed that at the first stage, Central Asian Republics, those who are members of SCO (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) along with Russia and China can move ahead under the vision of Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan for a joint tourism strategy.
Central Asian states are one of the best possible tourism destinations of the world, and they have played well in the tourism arena during the last 2 decades after independence from the former Soviet Russia.
These countries have everything to offer including ecotourism, natural beauty, hospitable and friendly people, and good services and infrastructure. The impediment for further tourism development in this region is the absence of strong interaction among tourism authorities of all these countries and a friendly visa regime.
International tourists face serious problems when they wish to cross the border from one Central Asian Republic to another central Asian state (for example from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan).nTourism experts of the region believe that a “One Visa Regime” can boost Central Asian tourism and multiply its tourism revenue. This is possible if there is strong connectivity among tourism ministries of all these countries. There is the need for a Joint Tourism Strategy, which has been indicated by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, and then SCO can move ahead towards a SCO Tourism Board comprised of tourism authorities of all SCO member states. Such a board will also play a positive role for more friendly relations of all these countries in the future.
Tourism is one of the most effective tools for revenue generation and establishing peace that can be achieved. Tourism should be considered not only a revenue provider but a harmony and peace generator.
The dilemma of the South Asian tourism market is Indo-Pakistan adverse relations and priorities of governments are contrary to the needs and demands of the tourism industry.
In South Asia, the governments of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Afghanistan have different political and diplomatic conflicts, and this is the lead reason that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has failed to establish interaction and strong networking in the field of tourism, because the SAARC did not setup any tourism board to deal with this issue.
The UNWTO Silk Road Plan can only be achieved when SCO member states at the government level, as well as at the non-government actors and stakeholders level, join hands toward the common goal of enhancing a tourism base in the region.