Despite having some of the world’s highest mountains and glaciers, pristine alpine landscapes, some spectacular beaches and a long tradition of hospitality, Pakistan has been off the tourist grid for the last few decades. A lot of that has had to do with the security environment, which has witnessed a dramatic improvement in recent years. The new government elected last year has also taken the initiative to fast track the process of putting Pakistan on the tourism trail by hosting a two-day tourism summit and announcing relaxed entry procedures.
As a result, the country has witnessed a deluge of interest from travel bloggers and social media influencers. Drew Binsky’s experiences visiting the country have alone received over 8 million hits on YouTube so far.
However, a vlogger called Alex who blogs her experiences travelling around Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bhutan recently posted a video that appears to critique the policies of the government and the security infrastructure in the country. Posting a video on her ‘Lost with Purpose’ page on Facebook, the American backpacker dropped a few pieces of advice for the government, which she says were part of a presentation that she was scheduled to give at the tourism summit, but which never happened.
In order for the country to successfully become a tourist hotspot, Alex believes that the bureaucratic red-tape needs to be reduced in order to ease travel within the country. Clear delineations need to be made about which areas need a NOC from the government, and which parts tourists can freely travel into. However, one would expect that this would not be a problem travelling around the major cities and tourist hotspots in the country. The travel blogger also mentioned about how the visa policies are still not as relaxed as they are being touted to be, and that areas previously under travel restriction continue to be so.
Another issue raised pertained to corrupt police officers, who often times demand bribes from foreigners. As ordinary Pakistanis will vouch, this is a valid point. One potential way to deal with this is by proactive training and monitoring of police in areas active with tourism activity.
Alex also mentioned how Pakistan has a problem with a preference for “Gora people”, a relic of its colonial past. It should be noted that this seems pretty much the case all over Asia and the middle east and that a significant number of Asians present in the country or devotees visiting the country for religious tourism (such as Sikhs) have left with reasonably good impressions of hospitality accorded, per testimonials on the social media.
The last piece of wisdom pertained to including local travel bloggers in the government’s social media strategy. The two-day tourism summit held in Islamabad, with Prime minister Imran Khan in the audience, came under heavy criticism in the local press for being “whitewashed.” Indeed, the social media impact of promotional initiatives for tourism can be greatly enhanced by including native Pakistanis blogging about all the country has to offer to tourists.
The bottom line is that the Pakistani government can make its tourism strategy more successful by providing clear guidelines to tourists and doing away with the bribe-culture in the police force which may spoil the experience for some. Including local bloggers will only further enhance the impact of the social media strategy as well.