Fears of terrorism keeping tourists at home


LAHORE, Pakistan – Despite the last year being declared as Visit Pakistan Year 2007, the country attracted a slightly lower number of tourists as compared to 2006. Terrorism is largely blamed for the lower turnout.

The ministry announced a year round calendar of events for the very first time for 2007. Apart from holding several events, it set the target to bring the number of tourists to 1 million.

Tourism Ministry economic analyst Zafarullah Siddiqi said 808,000 tourists had visited Pakistan from January to November 2006 and the revenue generated through tourism was US$234.7 million. He said for the same period in 2007, the country had received 755,000 tourists and generated a revenue of US$234.7 million.

The number of tourists in 2007 in the given time dropped by 6 percent while the revenue increased by approximately 6 percent. The reason for the low turnout has been attributed to terrorism and reason for the increase in revenue has been attributed to the high profile and high maintenance tourists who visited the country.

Former Tourism minister Nilofar Bakhtiar told Daily Times that she did not think the ministry had failed in reaching its goal. “Despite the average of one suicide bombing in the last year, the turnout of tourists did not drop to a significant number in addition to the increased revenue,” she said.

She said several constructive steps had been taken to boost tourism in the country. She said it was in her tenure that the government had agreed to issue 30 days landing permit to tourists of several countries after they arrived the port. She said she had been working for the same status for Indian tourists when she resigned, and added that she had been working to promote regional tourism.

She said the ministry held several shows abroad, including China, Japan and the US, to promote tourism. “Tourism brings a lot of revenue and development for the local people. Sibbi Mela brought a huge change for the locals,” she said. “The Lal Masjid row affected tourism more than any other thing,” she said, and added that most of the tourists first landed in Islamabad and then went to their tourist destinations.

Former Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation chief executive and managing director Masood Ali Khan said, “Nilofar Bakhtiar did well, but without a well crafted long term policy, based on analysis and marketing strategy, there are less chances to achieve goals.”

Khan said the government was largely depending on adventure and entertainment tourisms. “This year the government had done well by promoting religious tourism and has allowed a large number of Sikh tourists,” he said. “Now the government needs to focus on attracting Buddhist tourists from China, South Korea and Japan.”

He said there were few chances to have tourists from Western countries. “We need to focus on regional tourism,” he said. Khan said the government had announced “too many” events in 2007. “It is not possible to arrange all the events. Revive the Horse and Cattle Show, make it international by inviting farmers from neighbouring countries, attach the festival with the Spring Festival and then market this gala in the entire world,” he said. “Let the world know you are really going to make festivity.” He said human resource development was an integral part of tourism policies, which the government had never taken into account.

“The new factor is environment. If your land were filled with smoke and dust, no one would visit the country,” he added.

Tourism and terrorism: Everyone stressed that there was no need to be discouraged because of terrorism. Bakhtiar said, “What’s the fault of our rivers, mountains and blossoming flowers, if we are having trouble with terrorism? Lebanon and Sri Lanka have not abandoned attracting tourists, why should we?” Khan said, “No country is free of terrorism, so efforts to increase tourism should keep on going.”