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Tourism in Pakistan

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The National Tourism Policy 1990 was quite an attractive document as it accorded industry status to the tourism sector and guaranteed the same industrial benefits, monetary incentives, concessions, and treatments to all tourism related facilities with an additional incentive of an 8 year tax holiday for the tourism projects launched during July 1990 to June 1995. The geographic scope of concessionary loan financing was also extended to all over Pakistan including the coastal areas (except Karachi cosmopolitan jurisdiction), which were earlier limited to northern areas only.
The charter flights, tourist helicopters/small planes were also allowed for private sector operations. Provisions were made for a 72-hour transit to multiple entry visas for 4-5 years’ work permits. Leasing of government-owned facilities was allowed for private sector operations. Under Part VII Clause 45, import of special equipment for adventure tourism activities like water sports, hang gliding, trekking, mountaineering, angling, golf, indoor sports equipment, power boats, water rafts, canoes, and water & snow skilling equipment were allowed free of custom duty and sales tax in order to keep the cost of operation low and enable active engagement of the private sector at large.
It is pertinent to highlight that the incentives under National Tourism Policy 1990 were critically important for materializing the coastal tourism potential over a period of time. However, 5% customs duty was imposed in 2007 on this kind of special equipment during the revision of Pakistan National Tourism Policy, which was a discouraging factor considering various challenges to the maritime tourism segment.
In a parallel development under Section-VI of National Maritime Policy 2002, the importance of maritime tourism, water sports, and infrastructure development along the coast was also emphasized by the Federal Government. Under the same section, the National Maritime Policy 2002 augmented the agenda of National Tourism Policy 1990 by justifying the need to evolve long term provincial policies for the promotion of tourism and water sports by the Ministry of Sports, Culture, Tourism and Youth Affairs in consultation with the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan.
However, the federal context of the tourism segment was changed particularly after the 18th Amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan; after this, tourism became purely a provincial subject with no clarity on the responsible institution for maritime tourism and all other incentives as were guaranteed vide National Tourism Policy 1990. Apart from that, the Sindh Tourism Policy is awaiting its approval since 2014. Although, the policy covers some aspects of coastal tourism, it needs to be reviewed before approval/implementation. Similarly, the Balochistan province also needs a separate policy document with a strong commitment from the top provincial governance leadership.
Due to these shortcomings, and for other reasons such as the prevailing security situation after 9/11, things could not move in the right direction to put into practice any improved version of policies in Balochistan and Sindh to address outstanding issues and harness the true potential of maritime tourism in Pakistan.
In order to revive the tourism sector in Pakistan, the Federal Cabinet under case no.123/06/2019 revised the Visa Policy on 31.01.2019 and granted 3 months validity visit/tourist visa and stay with double entries to the foreigners of 190 countries. 50 countries were also granted visa-on-arrival for individual tourist or group tourists. This is indeed a positive step in the promotion of the tourism sector in Pakistan.
On 12th March 2019, the Federal Government devised the National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) in order to facilitate tourism in coordination and consultation with all concerned provinces. This was also a great step towards tourism development and it is hoped that NTCB will be able to produce tangible outcomes particularly by realizing the true potential of maritime tourism in Pakistan.
Initially, 9 working groups were created in NTCB by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. However, the maritime tourism component was found to be missing. On 4th April 2019, a need for the creation of maritime tourism was rationalized as one of the outcomes of stakeholder’s consultative seminar on Potential of Maritime Tourism Development in Pakistan organized by National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA) at Karachi. Subsequently, the approval of ToRs, developed by NIMA, for the same Working Group on Maritime Tourism was again another commendable step by the Federal Government.
During October 2019, a plan of activities for maritime tourism with the technical assistance of NIMA was included in NTCB’s National Strategy Paper – this was a step forward. However, there is still a need to make this group activate with a high frequency of meetings by ensuring active engagement of Sindh and Balochistan tourism departments.
There is a need to revive and put in place incentives with a tax holiday period for the promotion of maritime tourism in Pakistan, for which the role of provinces is critically important and NTCB has to bridge the gaps in order to remove these policy gaps, considering the provincial context of the tourism and several other overlapping federal aspects of maritime tourism. Duties should be exempted on the import of water sports related equipment to encourage the existing operators and attract new investment with proliferation of such activities at this very initial stage of this sectoral economy.
As a visionary step, there is also a need to devise an effective marketing strategy with proper budget allocation by Sindh and Balochistan Tourism Departments as well as at the level of NTCB; in addition to this, there is a need to raise awareness and to build capacity for the development of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) for the vision to come true over a shorter time period. Above all, the NTCB needs to coordinate with different national and international private investors to boost this very important sector of Pakistan’s Blue Economy.