The British Backpacker Society called Pakistan the "Top Travel Destination" for the year 2018. This independent travel body described their top pick as, "Pakistan is one of the friendliest countries on earth. So, prepare to be invited into people's homes, take more selfies than you can count, and have every preconception that you ever held about this area of the world changed forever".
After the unfolding of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the number of Chinese people traveling to Pakistan has increased, with some of them going on official visits, some to work on the projects under CPEC and others involved in business activities. Pakistan possesses a huge potential to attract foreign travelers, especially Chinese tourists.
The northern areas of Pakistan are a topographic heaven with snow covered mountains, natural freshwater lakes, waterfalls, pine forests and breathtaking views. People interested in adventure tourism can definitely enjoy this part of Pakistan as facilities such as paragliding, para-skiing, extreme mountaineering are in abundance. Pakistan's unique bio-diversity is an attraction in its own. Coming down from the wilderness of the mighty Karakoram we can reach the historical cities of Taxila, Mohenjo-daro, and Harappa. These cities have a history of a few thousand years and are an attraction for history lovers. Gandhara civilization is special attractions for Chinese as it is the cradle of Buddhism. Going further down south are the coastal areas of Karachi and Gawadar. Karachi being a cosmopolitan city with lots of economic activity offers a wide range of urban opportunities. Traveling to the west of Karachi we can find beautiful natural beaches and amazing topographical structures. Peshawar and Lahore are historic cities of Pakistan and depicts Pakistani culture and civilization. Pakistan is blessed with desserts too like the Cholistan in Punjab and Thar in Sindh.
Pakistan possesses huge tourism potential. This industry needs minimum investment and helps a lot to eradicate poverty. Generally speaking, the natural beauty is in the far-flung areas, where due to lack of infrastructure, accessibility is an obstacle for their development. Fortunately, due to CPEC, the major infrastructure in Pakistan is being upgraded and most of these places are being accessible conveniently. If the government of Pakistan introduces attractive policies and provides enabling environment, like visa facilitation, tourist facilitation and other tourist-friendly policies then tourism may become a major source of foreign exchange earnings, which Pakistan needs severely as well as a major tool for eradicating poverty in far-flung areas.
China has emerged as the second-largest economy of the world and purchasing power in China has grown to be one of the highest in the world. With the development of China in each sector, people are traveling and spending their holidays abroad in large numbers, and this is an ever-growing trend. Chinese spent $120 billion in 2015 on their travels abroad. If a fraction of this amount is attracted by Pakistan, it can help the nation to overcome its economic problems. On the other hand, the Chinese people may enjoy more hospitality in Pakistan than any other country. A common Chinese citizen enjoys the status of a celebrity in Pakistan. This fact is backed by the Pew survey carried out in Pakistan and anyone who has visited Pakistan.
According to the China Tourism Academy, a think tank under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, "the number of trips made by Chinese people to other countries or regions reached 135 million in 2016, compared to 5 million in 1995, data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed. This represents an annual increase of 17.6 percent on average over 21 years, said the NBS. China has been the country with most outbound tourists in annual terms since 2013, according to the NBS. China's outbound tourism market is estimated to increase by 5 percent annually on average in the coming years, bringing the number of outbound tourists to 157 million in 2020."
The next possible destination for Chinese tourist is Pakistan. Being neighbors, it is easy to travel to Pakistan and moreover, it is economical as the prices in Pakistan are still much more affordable as compared to other global competitors. Tourism Industry of Pakistan will also open avenues of collaboration for Chinese and local entrepreneurs. This act will prop up SMEs in various service sectors which are a priority for the current government. Any joint venture between Chinese and Pakistani entrepreneurs may be beneficiary mutually. It will also help to promote mutual understanding and people to people contacts will strengthen public diplomacy. Such endeavors will also strengthen the existing ties of deep-rooted friendship between the two nations.
Author: Prof. Zamir Ahmed Awan, Sinologist (ex-diplomat), Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan.