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To Promote Tourism Make Pakistan A More Tolerant Society

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Conde Nast recently announced Pakistan as the world’s top tourism destination for 2020. This news was shared by multiple national and international media organisations that highlighted Pakistan’s tourism potential. However, it is time to critically analyse why we barely make a pittance from tourism, unlike our neighbours.

Despite India’s fall into jingoistic politics and Hindu nationalism, our neighbour makes around $240 billion from tourism every year. This forms 9.2% of its GDP according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Thailand, another Asian country has similar figures with tourism contributing anywhere between 9-17% to its GDP. Malaysia, a fellow Muslim majority country has also tapped into its tourism potential and earned a great deal of money which has greatly improved its economy.

Even Arab countries like the UAE and Qatar have understood the importance of tourism not only towards the economy of their countries but also towards their culture. A culture of hospitality and diversity of visitors adds to the global appeal and soft power of nations.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has the potential to become a top tourism destination but our approach is flawed. Despite the current economic crisis, Pakistan has been unable to gear itself to take advantage of tourism.

While we have the best mountain ranges in the world and a culture of hospitality, the state imposes ridiculous restrictions on our populace which not only exposes us as extremely narrow-minded but also fundamentally short-sighted.

If we want foreigners to have a good time in our country, we have to provide the goods and services they like. Without a buzzing entertainment industry and nightlife options, Pakistan will never be able to attract huge swathes of foreign tourists.

When Pakistanis go to foreign countries, they expect to have the freedom to retain their cultural norms whether its halal food, wearing whatever they want and going to mosques. However, when foreigners come to our country, we don’t give them the freedom to live as they want but we impose our shallow worldview on them garnished with a myopic sense of righteousness.

Our state has not just banned liquor which is available in most tourist-friendly Muslim countries but also Sheesha which is considered to be a harmless vice. Our version of morality is so skewed that our state does nothing for the millions of heroin addicts living a miserable existence but it seeks to police people who wish to enjoy a drink or casually smoke sheesha.

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The recent backlash against Aurat March has also shown where Pakistan stands in preserving women’s rights. Will women of the world be comfortable in travelling to a country where their rights are not respected?

What about tourists belonging to other faiths? Can a Jew or a Hindu or a Parsi easily access their worship places in Pakistan?

We have a long way to go in creating a framework for tourism which includes nurturing the hospitality and transport industries but before we do that, we need to understand why our neighbours are making so much money from tourism while we lag behind.

Let’s become a more tolerant, open-minded and fun country where anyone, despite their religious, cultural and social values can have a good time. If that means having a drink or enjoying sheesha, then so be it. Without tolerance, there can’t be tourism.

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