Could 2019 be the year tourism returns to Pakistan?
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s much-discussed agenda of attracting foreigners to Pakistan to help the country’s multi-billion-rupee tourism industry achieve its full potential found support from an unlikely place earlier this month: Forbes Magazine.
In a feature on ‘The 10 Coolest Places to Go to in 2019,’ travel writer Ann Abel talked to experts at several high-end travel companies and compiled a list of destinations that “will transform us” or must be seen “before they change forever.” Sara Barbieri, a specialist with GeoEx suggested: “Explore the valleys of Hunza, Shigar and Khaplu via the renowned Karakorum Highway.” This must be music to Khan’s ears, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has been pushing through several initiatives to boost tourism, including easing visa restrictions and investing in infrastructure to attract international visitors looking to explore Pakistan’s verdant and bountiful north. The PTI hopes to establish four new tourist resorts each year to meet what they hope will be growing demand and are banking on the completion of the Swat Motorway to reduce travel times throughout the Malakand region.
According to Barbieri, the Karakorum Highway features “the kind of startlingly scenery that compels you to gaze from the window of your 4WD without blinking.” In addition to Pakistan, Forbes also features Colombia, Eastern Bhutan, Ethiopia, Mexico, Madagascar and Mongolia as places that are the “coolest” places to visit in 2019.
Beyond the confidence that Barbieri’s appeal instils in Pakistan’s security situation, the boost in tourism that could come from curious travelers would be a major boon for locals whose livelihoods depend on seasonal visitors. It is essential for Pakistan to project a softer image to achieve this dream. If P.M. Khan can manage to deliver on his promise, he’ll have left a legacy to be proud of.