Five ways for Pakistan to help make tourists’ stays more comfortable

It was 7:35am and I walked like a zombie on a flight of steps clutching a heavy hand-carry on my shoulders and a purse that refused to stay put on my arm. After switching two flights and waiting at the stop-over to get to Pakistan from the United Kingdom, I was too tired to function properly and vowed to take an escalator the next time I came across one at the airport.

However, the next escalator that I saw wasn’t functioning, so I had to use it as a regular staircase and standing at the flight of steps, as I looked down, I saw a sea of people waiting impatiently at the immigration counter.

As an unaccompanied female travelling alone, I made my way to the ladies’ counter only to find that there was no official standing behind it. Several tired passengers were already bickering with the Lahore airport officials, asking them to expedite the process and get more officials to man the counters. There were no proper queues, so people were standing wherever they thought that the line was the shortest or trying to heckle their way into the lines. The staff left some of the counters unmanned or did not pay heed to which queue should be standing in front of which counter, eg the old passengers’ counter should have had the aged passengers standing in front of it, etc. A bit shamefaced I looked at the queue of international passengers who were just entering Pakistan. This was the first impression that they were going to form about my country. At the counter, there was a bold sign which read Visa on Arrival for International groups, in line with the government’s new visa policy to uplift tourism.

Forbes has listed Pakistan as one of the 10 coolest places to go in 2019 and 1.75 million tourists visited Pakistan in 2017 alone, according to Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation’s statistics.

For someone who loves Pakistan and would really like to show its best face to tourists, these are the changes that I recommend that the government and we as Pakistanis can incorporate to showcase our country. More and more tourists will hopefully make their way to Pakistan with the improvement in the security situation and in keeping with government’s plans to develop new tourist destinations, these changes will go a long way in leaving a good impression on the tourists.

DISCIPLINE AT AIRPORTS, RAILWAY STATIONS AND ON BUSES — the government needs to make sure that enough staff is hired at the airports/railway stops/bus counters etc to enable the staff to man the counters in an efficient manner. The escalators should be running and in the absence of fans, air conditioners should be switched on, so that weary and exhausted passengers don’t faint from the heat, after enduring long hours of travel. If power cuts have to happen, then they should be scheduled and remain consistent throughout the day. The parking facilities should also be better managed, so it becomes easier for guests to get a taxi or reach their cars, after coming out of the airport/railway or bus stops.

The government needs to make sure that enough staff are hired at airports, railway stops and bus counters to run the counters in an efficient manner. The escalators should be running and in the absence of fans, air conditioners should be switched on so that weary and exhausted passengers don’t faint from the heat after enduring long hours of travel

CLEANLINESS — Pakistan has some of the most scenic tourist destinations in the world. However, if you visit Murree, Siri Paye, Saiful Malook Lake, Shogran, Naran, Kaghan, Azad Kashmir and other tourist spots, garbage can be seen scattered everywhere, which becomes a major eyesore and a health hazard. A solid waste management company should be set up for maintaining cleanliness in tourist destinations and heavy fines should be imposed on people caught littering these spots, to set an example for others. The litter problem should be resolved by the government on an urgent basis, but at the same time, we Pakistanis should also avoid throwing our garbage in these areas, and instead take the litter with us or throw it in the proper garbage dumps.

TRAVEL BY ROADS — as someone who has worked in the development sector for a number of years, I have had the privilege of travelling extensively across Pakistan. In one of these trips, I travelled to Swat and the road from Mingora to Kalam was extremely bumpy and uncomfortable. The road to Mahodand Lake also had huge boulders on it and was so narrow, that it was difficult for two jeeps to smoothly cross each other at the same time on the road. The roads to Saiful Mulook Lake and Siri Paye were also so precarious, that we were literally praying for our life to get to the destinations and back safely, as one tire of the jeeps that we were travelling in was on the road, and the other was literally up in the air and off the side of the road. When the journey is so arduous, it takes some of the fun away from the experience of being in a breathtaking tourist site. So it’s imperative, that the government instead of rebuilding roads in the cities where they are not needed, should focus on building roads in these areas, so more tourists can easily travel to these locations and marvel at the magnificence of these sites.

ACCESSIBILITY OF TOILETS — on an office trip to Hunza back in 2015, it took us 21 hours to get to our destination and 22 hours to get back to Islamabad, as we didn’t do a proper stopover along the way. There were long patches of the Karakoram Highway which were unbuilt and bumpy back then. The lack of accessible toilets also added to my misery, as there were many stretches of land with no bathrooms in sight. Other females or families who have visited Gilgit Baltistan by road, will probably relate to my story. As Pakistan opens its doors to more international tourists, it is essential that well-equipped restaurants be developed on the path to every major tourist destination. Even if making restaurants seems costly and protracted, it is imperative that proper washrooms be developed. Uniformed staff should be appointed at the toilets to keep them clean and functional and a suitable fee should be allocated for using them. The fee will help to pay the salary for the toilet staff and will lead to job creation for the local population.

MEDICAL CENTRES NEAR TOURIST SPOTS — it’s a no-brainer that every area in Pakistan needs to be equipped with Basic Health Units or clinics. This is especially true for places surrounding tourist destinations. In one of my travels, my mom got very sick during the journey. We stopped at a hospital which was closed in Balakot, so we had to travel five hours to reach Islamabad after enduring heavy traffic, to get to a hospital there. It was a terrible experience and no tourist family should have to face this issue. So to make the trip enjoyable, there should be basic health units in the vicinity of every major tourist site. The clinics will not only cater to the tourists but also facilitate the local population. No tourist should have to return from a beautiful location in Pakistan, just because they didn’t find adequate health facilities nearby. If the government sets up these clinics or if private healthcare centres are developed, then this problem can be easily avoided. I am sure more items can be added to the list. But if we as Pakistanis start making progress towards some of these items, it will help to make tourists’ stay in our country much more comfortable and enjoyable!

The writer is a scholar and Tweets @HiraShah05

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