Tourism in Pakistan has been stated by the Lonely Planet magazine as being the tourism industry's "next big thing". Pakistan, with its diverse cultures, people and landscapes attracted 1 million tourists in 2012
Pakistan's tourism industry was in its heyday during the 1970s when the country received unprecedented amounts of foreign tourists, thanks to theHippie trail. The main destinations of choice for these tourists were the Khyber Pass, Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore, Swat and Rawalpindi.
The country's attraction range from the ruin of civilisation such as Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and Taxila, to the Himalayan hill stations, which attract those interested in winter sports. Pakistan is home to several mountain peaks over 7000 m, which attracts adventurers and mountaineers from around the world, especially K2. The north part of Pakistan has many old fortresses, ancient architecture and the Hunza and Chitral valley, home to small pre-Islamic Animist Kalasha community claiming descent from Alexander the Great. The romance of the historic Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is timeless and legendary, Punjab province has the site of Alexander's battle on the Jhelum River and the historic city Lahore, Pakistan's cultural capital, with many examples of Mughal architecture such as Badshahi Masjid, Shalimar Gardens, Tomb of Jahangir and the Lahore Fort. Before the Global economic crisis Pakistan received more than 500,000 tourists annually. However, this number has now come down to near zero figures since 2008 due to instability in the country and many countries declaring Pakistan as unsafe and dangerous to visit.
In October 2006, just one year after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, The Guardian released what it described as "The top five tourist sites in Pakistan" in order to help the country's tourism industry. The five sites included Taxila, Lahore, The Karakoram Highway, Karimabad and Lake Saiful Muluk. To promote Pakistan's unique and various cultural heritage, the Prime Minister launched the "Visit Pakistan" marketing campaign in 2007. This campaign involved various events throughout the year including fairs and religious festivals, regional sporting events, various arts and craft shows, folk festivals and several openings of historical museums.
In 2009, The World Economic Forum's Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report ranked Pakistan as one of the top 25% tourist destinations for its World Heritage sites. Ranging from mangroves in the South, to the 5,000-year-old cities of the Indus Valley Civilization which included Mohenjo-daro andHarappa.
See also: List of World Heritage Sites in Pakistan
Pakistan is such a diverse region, it is the center of various religions and settlements long before the creation of the nation that exists today. Today, Pakistan is formed of four large provinces –Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and four territories – Islamabad Capital Territory, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. The cultural and physical diversity of Pakistan has developed the country into a tourist hot spot for foreign travellers as well as adventurers.
Currently Pakistan has six major cultural sites that are categorised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These include:
Historic Monuments of the ancient city of Thatta.
The ancient fort of Rohtas.
During the period of 1993–2004, Pakistan was unable to submit information to UNESCO which delayed several sites to be categorised as potentialWorld Heritage Sites. In 2004, the Ministry of Tourism was given funding to continue its research and ten sites were placed onto UNESCO Tentative List. In total, eighteen sites are awaiting to be categorised as of June 2010 which include:
The 17th Century Mughal built Badshahi Mosque.
The 17th Century Mughal built Wazir Khan Mosque.
The 17th century Tombs of Jahangir, Asif Khan and Akbari Sarai.
Hiran Minar and Tank, built by Mughal Emperor Jahangir in commemoration of his favourite antelope in the city of Sheikhupura.
14th Century Tomb of Hazrat Rukn-e-Alam.
One of the world's largest forts in the world, Rani Kot Fort.
15th and 18th century Chaukhandi Tombs of several Sindhi and Balochi tribes.
Archaeological site of Rehman Dheri.
Archaeological site of Harappa.
Archaeological site of Ranigat.
Mansehra Rock Edicts.
Tomb of Bibi Jawindi, Baha'al-Halim and Ustead and the Tomb and Mosque of Jalaluddin Bukhari in Uch Sharif.
Port of Banbhore.
Furthermore, there are several landmarks and structures that have not yet made the UNESCO Tentative List. Long before the creation of Pakistan in 1947, there were plenty of cultures and religions that existed before the Partition of India. Pakistan being the center of various wars led to several dynasties and tribes ruling its lands. They left various landmarks behind which some have become national icons whilst others needing the attention of concerned authorities. Some of these include:
Faisalabad Clock Tower and the Eight Bazaars
Altit Fort in Hunza Valley
17th and 18th century Tombs of Talpur Mirs
Faiz Mahal of the Talpur Mirs
Mughal built tomb of Asaf Khan
The tomb of Qutb-ud-din Aibak the first Sultan of Delhi and founder of the Slave dynasty.
Sikh built Mohatta Palace
18th century Omar Hayat Mahal
19th Century Italian chateau Noor Palace
Mughal-built Hiran Minar
One of the oldest salt mines in Asia, Khewra Salt Mines
16th century built fort at Skardu
Post-independence Pakistan retained its heritage by constructing various sites to commemorate its independence by blending various styles and influences from the past. Some of these include:
Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore.
Pakistan Monument in Islamabad.
Infrastructure and the economy
Tourism is a growing industry in Pakistan. With more and more foreign investment and funding, Pakistan was able to build its major road and air networks to cater mass movements of cargo and inter-city travel. Roads are being developed by several consultants from the Northern Areas all the way down to the Port of Karachi. However, till this date, the government has not be able to take the tourism market seriously within Pakistan. Pakistan is home to a diverse number of tourist attractions which have not been funded or protected due to the government giving the tourism market a low priority.
Several statistics from the last decade show tourism is a "market led industry and not supply driven" which has led a large decline in travel to Pakistan. This has led to fewer tour agencies being set up and development of historical sites. It has been estimated that the public and private sectors have gradually earned less income from the tourism market causing less investment and innovation within the industry. This has led to several sites to depreciate over time and the lack of Minimum International Standards have left many sites in poor states. The latest budget showed that less money was being spent on research and marketing and more on defence and other fixed markets.
The 2008 World Economic forum's Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report (TTCR) ranked Pakistan 103 out of 124 countries to visit. This low figure was due to a weak travel and tourism infrastructure, low branding and marketing effectiveness and low priority the government gave to the travel and tourism industry. Despite various campaigns such as the Visit Pakistan 2007 scheme the number of tourists dropped each year. This year it dropped by 6% as compared to the figures of last year. The lack of facilities within Pakistan cannot compete those of international standards. With a poor tourism infrastructure the provision of standard and competitive hotel rooms in Pakistan, the national and cultural resources being reduced, the uncertain security situation prevailing and rising inflation are the main factors reducing tourism within Pakistan.
Many critics have encouraged the government to again attract tourists to Pakistan by initiating the sponsorship of new businesses within the tourist market. Building and maintaining the road and air networks to meet international standards. The maturation of human and natural resources can also contribute in development of this feeble industry. Advertising campaigns need to attract tourist by developing holiday packages tailored to explore the greater regions of the country.