• By: Ali Inan

In a remarkable feat, Pakistan achieved an impressive 92 % recovery, in tourism sector, to pre-pandemic levels in 2023, positioning itself as a beacon of tourism resurgence on the global stage. The country experienced a remarkable 115 % surge in foreign tourist arrivals, surpassing the previous figures and showcasing a robust comeback post-Covid.

A strategic online outreach and the launch of the “Salam Pakistan” tourism brand in 2023 played a pivotal role in attracting a diverse range of visitors from across the globe. The success of the recovery in tourism sector can also be attributed to private organizations like the College of Tourism and Hotel Management COTHM for educating, training, and preparing professionals in tourism and hospitality sector.

Expressing optimism for a stronger performance in 2024, acknowledgement is due to the efforts of Pakistan Tourism and Development Corporation PTDC. The optimism exudes from the collaborative efforts of PTDC, provincial tourist departments, and private sector operators, emphasizing the role of global events in expanding international partnerships.

According to the World Tourism Organization Tourism Barometer, Pakistan stood out among leading destinations such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Turkey, and Romania. Key findings from the barometer revealed that international tourism had recovered 87 % of pre-pandemic levels.

The Middle East continued to lead the recovery in relative terms, with arrivals 20 % above pre-pandemic levels. Europe, as the world’s largest destination region, reached 94 % of pre-pandemic levels, driven by robust intra-regional demand. Africa and the Americas recovered 92 % and 88 % of pre-crisis visitors, respectively, during the nine-month period, while Asia and the Pacific saw arrivals climb to 62 % of pre-pandemic levels. Noteworthy were the sub-regions of North Africa (+5 %), Central America (+4 %), and Southern Mediterranean Europe (+1 %), which continued to exceed pre-pandemic levels.

Despite economic challenges and uncertainties arising from geopolitical tensions and conflicts, the WTO asserts that international tourism is on track to fully recover pre-pandemic levels in 2024. Within this global context, Pakistan’s Travel & Tourism market is expected to reach a revenue of US$3,402.00 million in 2024, with an annual growth rate of 3.59% from 2024 to 2028. The market’s largest segment is the Package Holidays market, projected to have a volume of US$1,443.00 million in 2024.

By 2028, the number of users in this market is expected to reach 16,400.00k users, with a user penetration of 10.1% in 2024 that is expected to rise to 10.5% by 2028. The average revenue per user (ARPU) is anticipated to be US$137.40, and Pakistan’s Travel & Tourism market is estimated to generate 66% of total revenue through online sales by 2028.

Comparatively, in the global landscape, the United States is predicted to generate the most revenue in this market, with an estimated value of US$199 billion in 2024.

A notable shift in the travel industry is the rising prominence of Halal Tourism, catering specifically to the needs of Muslim travellers. Halal tourism, defined as a form of travel that meets the specific requirements of Muslim travellers, has gained significant traction globally. The trend is driven by the increasing Muslim middle class and a growing awareness of Halal tourism products and services.

The Muslim travel market is projected to be worth over $220 billion by 2020, emphasizing the substantial potential for Halal tourism. For Muslim travellers, Halal tourism provides an opportunity to explore the world while adhering to Islamic principles. Offering access to Halal food, prayer facilities, and gender-segregated accommodations, Halal tourism ensures comfort and familiarity for Muslim travellers in destinations unfamiliar with Islamic practices.

As the global Muslim population grows, and more Muslim travellers seek Halal-friendly destinations, the tourism industry must adapt to cater to their unique needs. The significance of Halal tourism extends beyond economic benefits, fostering intercultural understanding and tolerance.

Halal tourism is marked by specific features such as providing Halal food and beverages, access to prayer facilities and services, gender-segregated accommodations and facilities, and cultural sensitivity and respect.

Destinations looking to tap into the growing Halal tourism market must adopt best practices, including collaborating with local businesses, offering Halal-certified options, and promoting cultural sensitivity.

While Halal tourism presents challenges related to infrastructure and services, such as the need for Halal-friendly facilities, it also offers opportunities for innovation and growth. Technology plays a crucial role in addressing these challenges, with mobile applications and social media aiding Muslim travellers in finding suitable options.

The rise of Halal tourism in Pakistan aligns with the overall growth in the country’s tourism industry. In 2023, Pakistan experienced a surge in international visitors, welcoming nearly 100,000 foreigners. Tourists from the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Germany, and Canada were among those exploring Pakistan’s cultural heritage, landscapes, and hospitality.

The tourism boom in Pakistan is set to continue in 2024, with expectations of a breakout year for the industry. The country’s tourism statistics for 2023 showcased a record-breaking influx of international tourists, with over 97,500 foreign visitors. Afghanistan, the United States, and the United Kingdom were among the top countries contributing to this surge.

Furthermore. private sector institutions like the College of Tourism and Hotel Management COTHM have been contributing to increase the human resource in tourism and hospitality sector for now more than two decades. Established in 2002, the College of Tourism and Hotel Management (COTHM) is a renowned hospitality school in Pakistan, offering internationally recognized CTH Level 3 to Level 7 Hospitality and Tourism Management qualifications across Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi. Founded by CEO Ahmad Shafiq and a group of local and international hospitality professionals, COTHM aims to elevate the standards of the Pakistani hospitality industry. The registrar of COTHM Lahore, Muhammad Jamil has played an instrumental role to prioritize practical training alongside theoretical education to carry forward Ahmad Shafiq’s vision with fully equipped campuses featuring expansive kitchens equipped with production facilities. This philosophy of balancing theory and practice prepares human resource for successful entry into workforce within the dynamic Hospitality and Tourism sectors.

The potential for tourism in Pakistan is vast, with diverse natural beauty, ancient archaeological sites, vibrant festivals, religious sites, and hospitable locals. Improved security, upgraded infrastructure, and pro-tourism policies can set the stage for massive growth in the industry.

The positive trends in 2023 and initial phase of 2024 indicate that Pakistan is on the cusp of a major tourism boom in 2024. The benefits of tourism for Pakistan extend beyond economic gains, encompassing social, cultural, and political realms. Tourism is expected to contribute significantly to Pakistan’s GDP, promote development in remote areas, create employment opportunities, foster intercultural harmony, and enhance the country’s international image.

The potential impact of tourism on Pakistan’s economic development is substantial, with a projected 7% contribution to the GDP by 2025. Ministry of Tourism had, last year, envisioned an annual revenue of 1 trillion rupees if the tourism industry is fully developed. Moreover, tourism has the power to transform remote and backward areas, exemplified by the development of Swat and parts of Kashmir. The employment potential is vast, with 3.5 million people currently working in the tourism industry, and the possibility of creating an additional 10 million jobs. Beyond economic benefits, tourism can foster intercultural harmony, bringing together people of different religions, cultures, and climates. Increased tourist activity reduces the sense of “othering” and contributes to greater understanding and acceptance. This process can bring inter-provincial and inter-cultural harmony through domestic tourism and improve relations with other countries, particularly with India and Afghanistan. On the international stage, tourism serves as a tool for showcasing soft power and improving a country’s image.

By following the examples of India and Switzerland, Pakistan can leverage tourism to gain diplomatic leverage and financial benefits.

Pakistan stands at the threshold of a tourism revolution in 2024. The positive trends from 2023, coupled with the country’s rich cultural heritage, breathtaking landscapes, religious sites, and legendary hospitality, position Pakistan as an emerging hotspot for international tourism.

The potential economic, social, and cultural benefits underscore the importance of embracing and nurturing this growing industry. The call is not just to stakeholders in the tourism industry but to the entire nation – recognize the significance of tourism, embrace the rise of Halal tourism, religious pluralism, and take proactive measures to harness the potential.

The global movement towards exploring the beauty of Pakistan is underway, and 2024 promises to be a year of unforgettable adventures and unprecedented growth in the country’s tourism sector. Pakistan invites the world to experience the magic of its diverse landscapes and cultural wonders through meticulously curated tour packages, ensuring that an unforgettable journey awaits all who embark on the adventure.

  • The writer is a PhD scholar in English Literature, a Lawyer, and an International Relations analyst.
  • He may be reached at inan.ali.gamaryan@gmail.com

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