PAKISTAN TOURISM INDUSTRY EYES REVIVAL

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Malik Aftab now has every reason to continue earning his livelihood as a tourist guide as he finds ten to twenty local and some foreign tourists who hire his services to learn about the history of Lahore Fort, built by Mughals some four centuries ago.

And the fort is just one of the countless exotic buildings and breathtaking scenes that are a big pull for both foreigners and local tourists in the land of the Indus civilization, Victorian and Islamic architecture, Mughal gardens and fascinating hills and lakes in the northern parts, Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In the south, there are a number of places like Fort Munro and Mohenjo-Daro that attract visitors. While Karachi tells modern history, interior Sindh and Balochistan have tremendous reserves of heritage.

Additionally, Sikh pilgrims also visit holy places in their religion in large numbers in Nankana Sahib, Punjab.

Aftab, the 40- year old Lahorite recalls that the 9/11 incident in America and the resulting Afghan war had proved a bolt from the blue for Pakistani tourism, with no foreigner travelling to this part of the world.

Now things have started improving steadily. With the initiation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project, thousands of Chinese are travelling to Pakistani cities like Lahore and Islamabad.

After a long period, Western tourists are also beginning to visit major urban centers like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad .

An improved law and order in the country has started yielding results, after years of insecurity and stagnation.

“Everything is not doom and gloom in Pakistan ; Now foreigners are visiting and investing in Pakistan; thanks in large measure to efforts to curb terrorism and restore law and order,” says Shahab Rizvi, President Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an umbrella organization of multinational companies operating in Pakistan.

Critical to promoting Pakistan tourism would be building a positive image of the country in the outside world since people travel to other countries after taking into consideration a lot of things like media reports and advisories.

According to a Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation estimate, the number of tourists visiting Pakistan is expected to touch 2 million during next 10 years.

Gradually, foreign airlines are now returning to Pakistani skies. In March, Malaysian Airline , Malindo started Lahore-Kuala Lumpur Flight Operations. A number of foreign airlines are scheduled to resume by fall this year.

The tourism industry is also very optimistic about further expansion in the domestic tourism as some 50 million local tourists would travel within the country on short trips on weekends this year.

But, industry experts say local tourism has been witnessing a boom for the past few years and the trend is likely to continue. Several factors, travel experts say, have bolstered the industry with services sector development being a key reason.

At the same time, tourism needs some big improvements. For example, in the northern areas access remains a problem due to a lack of road network and infrastructure that can handle more frequent transportation and flights.

That might seem a long-term project and involve both the government and the private sector. But at the moment natural bounties and historical places are beginning to recapture their share of tourists.

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