(The article was first published in Nov-Dec 2017 edition of Aurora.)
In the past five years, domestic tourism in Pakistan has increased exponentially. According to the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC), it is estimated that 80 million tourists travelled within Pakistan, mostly between May and August. The numbers have been growing since 2013. Several factors have contributed to this growth, including better infrastructure, increased awareness about travel-worthy places and a rise in the number of tour operators.
Beyond the north
The northern parts of Pakistan have historically been the most popular places for domestic tourism – and for good reason, as northern Pakistan offers some of the most scenic landscapes found on the face of our planet, as well as a pleasant summer climate. However, there has now been a surge in tourism in the southern parts of the country to spots that were previously little-known as tourist attractions; these include Gorakh Hill, Gwadar and National Hingol Park. Their popularity started to rise when a few tour operators began offering tours to these locations. They shared their photos on social media and prompted other groups to start offering tours there as well. These spots have now become mainstream tourist attractions. People who found it cost- or time-prohibitive to fly from southern Pakistan to Islamabad in order to go up north, have turned to these spots in the south for weekend trips.
The ease and cost efficiency of running a Facebook page has enabled many tour operators to reach out to hundreds of thousands of people. It can cost as little as $10 to reach between 5,000 and 7,000 people within a relevant geographic location. Furthermore, the options to refine audiences by gender and interests made it even more efficient to reach out to the right customers.
The Facebook pages
Before the advent of social media, it took time, effort and funds to become a tour operator, even in the domestic market. Maintaining a physical presence in the form of an office to deal with clients was a major expense, and having the resources for a conventional marketing campaign was a different story altogether. Social media has changed all this. The ease and cost efficiency of running a Facebook page has enabled many tour operators to reach out to hundreds of thousands of people. It can cost as little as $10 to reach between 5,000 and 7,000 people within a relevant geographic location. Furthermore, the options to refine audiences by gender and interests made it even more efficient to reach out to the right customers. This has enabled even travel enthusiasts to become tour operators; many individuals who previously used to travel and explore little-known parts of the country are now running their own successful tours – a dream occupation for any traveller! Today, to be a successful tour operator, all one needs is a credit card, basic knowledge on how to run a social media account, pictures of places worth going to and the required knowledge of those places.
Improvements in infrastructure
Improvements on the Makran Coastal Highway and the Karakoram Highway, as well as the development of several highways and motorways, have enabled even the least powerful of cars (such as a Mehran) to travel easily to destinations previously accessible only by 4x4s. And things are getting even better with the ongoing work on CPEC, which aims to make the remotest parts of Pakistan accessible. For example, before the construction of the Makran Coastal Highway, Karachi was linked to Gwadar by a dirt track and it would take almost two days to drive from one city to the other. Today, the time has shrunk to under 10 hours. If you leave Karachi on a Friday night, you will be in Gwadar in time to watch the sunrise on Saturday and then explore the city and its mesmerising beaches until Sunday morning. Leave for Karachi after breakfast and be back in town for dinner – not bad for a weekend escape!
Tour operators aside, some people have even started to monetise their travel adventures by writing about their experiences, building a loyal audience of followers and earning through advertisements, endorsements, product placements, sponsorships and collaborations with commercial organisations.
Social media drives tourism inspiration
This is probably one of the biggest factors in the growth of tourism, both local and foreign. Nothing tempts today’s travellers more than beautifully-captured Instagram shots. The growth of social sharing by people visiting such locations has encouraged many people to pack their bags and do the same. Tour operators aside, some people have even started to monetise their travel adventures by writing about their experiences, building a loyal audience of followers and earning through advertisements, endorsements, product placements, sponsorships and collaborations with commercial organisations. This new-found income enables them to invest in their travels, buy better photography equipment, plan longer tours, go to even more remote locations and, in turn, inspire an even larger number of people to make a similar journey.
To sum up, Pakistan’s tourism industry is making a real difference to the lives of millions of people by driving growth, creating jobs, reducing poverty and fostering development and tolerance across our regional as well as international borders. And we are only getting started!
Urooj Hussain is Associate Director Digital, Brainchild Communications. firstname.lastname@example.org