As terror attacks recede, the tourism industry of Pakistan has begun to thrive; annual tourist arrivals have more than tripled since 2013, according to Bloomberg.
Alan Cameron, a 34-year-old Canadian, was holidaying in Pakistan from his job as an analyst in Jefferies, London. His visit last month highlights how Pakistan’s tourism industry is rekindling after the military security crack-down. Pakistan also started a tourism drive this summer placing adverts across the sides of London’s iconic red buses.
After the tragic APS attack of 2014 where more than 100 children were massacred, the army has neutered insurgent groups and political militias. Tourists are now returning to areas such as the Swat Valley, known to be the Switzerland of Pakistan. It is also the same place where Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai was shot in 2012.
As security improves, annual tourist arrivals to Pakistan have more than tripled since 2013 to 1.75 million last year, while domestic travelers rose 30 per cent to 38.3 million, according to the state-owned Pakistan Tourism Development Corp. The World Travel and Tourism Council puts the total contribution of tourism to Pakistan’s economy at $19.4 billion last year or 6.9 per cent of gross domestic product. In a decade, the WTTC expects that to rise to $36.1 billion.
Still, security challenges remain. While casualties from attacks fell 43 per cent last year, major cities, such as Lahore, are occasionally hit by bombings.
Jonny Bealby, the managing director of Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel Ltd, a London-based operator that has run trips to Pakistan for two decades, said his tours to the South Asian nation are up 60 per cent from last year.
Along with security, Bealby said the main improvement in Pakistan has been infrastructure. “The roads have improved immeasurably reducing journey times.’’ Hotel bookings also increased 80 per cent last year, according to Jovago, a Pakistani accommodation booking website. Many Pakistanis want to travel, but going abroad is difficult, said Nadine Malik, chief executive officer of Jovago Asia.
“It’s hard to get visas — it’s not easy and it’s not cheap,’’ she said in an interview in Karachi. Likewise, for many foreigners, getting a Pakistani visa is expensive and bureaucratic, says Ayesha Siddiqa, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and author of several books on Pakistan’s military.
“A lot of people go to India because it publicises itself as a tourist destination,’’ Siddiqa said. “It’s much more accessible.’’ The government is considering expanding the visa-on-arrival service beyond the current 16 countries, said Mukhatar Ali, a spokesperson for the Pakistan tourism agency, without specifying which ones.
Meanwhile, resort spots like the northern town of Naran are buzzing with construction work, while hotels and restaurants enjoy a healthy trade from Pakistani holiday makers.
Even in the turbulent port city of Karachi, tourism in and around the city has taken hold.
The Super Savari Express, a colourful sightseeing tour bus in Karachi, started operations in 2015 and wants to expand with regular trips around Lahore and Islamabad next year, according to Jehanzeb Salim, head of operations. “It’s about breaking mental barriers,’’ he said.