Let’s Build Tourism!

Author: Daily Times

Things have definitely looked up for the local tourism scene ever since international travel became a forbidden fruit (thank you, coronavirus). Over one million visitors have already registered in the picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan alone. A definite addition to its mass appeal was the rubber-stamp given by Forbes’ inclusion in the 10 “coolest places.” It is not just the majestic mountains that are a local favourite. We clearly do not have any dearth of breathtaking landscapes and wonderful getaways from the mundanities of reality. Whether due to PM Imran Khan’s public appreciation of Naran as “more beautiful and scenic than Switzerland” or people simply getting bored in the Eid break, the last few weeks have seen a never-before uptick in domestic tourism. As per reports, around 700,000 vehicles flocked to the Kaghan valley over the recent holidays. An extremely overjoyed PTI cabinet called for great celebrations as their boss had been trumpeting the importance of the tourism sector for far too long.

However, our natural allure–no matter how galvanic–is no magician’s hat. Sure, it could offer a quenching deoch an doris for those with thirst but there’s so much this appeal can do. The reports of a record influx of tourists yearning for lush greenery were immediately followed by visuals of choked roads, in and out of the valley. Social media was littered with cautionary tales. Soon, people were talking of a struggle to find accommodation. Unbelievably long queues of vehicles outside local filling stations were an eye-sore as the destination had run out of fuel. A weekend of joy soon turned into a nightmare for many as they had to scavenge for food. What an anticlimactic ending!

The steep fall of an otherwise rosy chapter in our tourism sector has laid bare the shambolic state of our infrastructure. How on earth can we encourage people to prioritise local spots when Pakistan’s north is, simply put, incapable of handling their presence. For decades, we have seen people manoeuvering through potholes, uneven roads (that at times, disappear altogether) and a literal no regard for a safe traffic flow. The situation becomes even more precarious when landslides or floods force people to remain stranded for several days. We cannot afford to ignore the elephant in the room anymore. With no proper accommodation, how are the tourists supposed to spend their nights? Cramped inside their cars or under the starry sky? The most recent misevent also saw a huge number of families forced to spend their nights inside their vehicles. This must have been poles apart from what they had expected of their getaway. Tourism is, indeed, a potential life-saving shot for our ailing economy. No qualms about that. But first, let’s focus on planning so that the industry lands well on its feet. The need to balance the ever-growing developmental needs with the protection of our extraordinary beauty is another story altogether. Pakistanis may band against international motorcycle traveller, Rosie Gabrielle–however vehemently they want–but they cannot deny what she has said. Instead of “leaving good memories,” many of us have been leaving “a lot of trash.” Something, our fragile scenery won’t be able to keep up with! *

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