IK has a fixation on tourism. Rightly so. It is stated to be the biggest industry in the world. It provides massive employment – the supply chain is very profitable – jobs, food, drinks and everything under the sun. IK must have been impressed with Bali, when he used to vacation there with Mick Jager. Personally I dislike both Bali and Venice – both overstated and glamorized. But Pakistan has missed the tipping point. The best time to promote tourism in Pakistan was in 2013. When Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s brother was Pakistan’s Tourism Minister. If marketed correctly, people would have come in droves to visit the Madrassas.
Tourist visitors in 2018 were as follows: France 86.9 million visitors, Spain 81.8, the USA 76.9, China 60.7, Italy 58.3, Mexico 39.3, UK 37.7, Turkey 37.6, Germany 37.5, Thailand 35.4. In the old days three things were essential to attract tourists – beach, booze and broads. Now tourism has evolved, segmented. There is Religious Tourism, Cultural Tourism, Sex Tourism, Adventure Tourism, Health Tourism and Environmental Tourism. The latest industry diversification is “Dark Tourism”.
Saudi Arabia does not need to worry. When they run out of oil, they will continue to earn money from Religious Tourism. Last year the take was approximately US$20 billion. The most profitable Hilton Hotel in the world is in Makkah. Similarly, Rome will never run out of visitors – the Vatican has been drawing tourists since the Gregorian Calendar began. The Vatican was supposed to be the richest entity in the world. But who knows, with both Apple and Amazon having reached a market cap of US$ One Trillion.
Sex Tourism is a big draw. Thailand was a quiet, placid country in the 1960s. Then USA got involved in the Vietnam war. Thailand became an R&R (Rest & Recreation) destination for US troops. In a few years Bangkok became the Sex Capital of Asia. It soon spread to other towns and resorts.
Vietnam, which I visit occasionally because my daughter lives there, is quiet and conservative. Men of many nationalities marry Vietnamese women and take up residence. In our part of the world, Dubai is the place to swing, but not publicly. On a per capita basis, Dubai has more call girls than any other city. The best place to go is said to be the Cyclopes Night Club. Go after 2pm when business is slow.
The fastest growing segment of the tourist industry is ‘Dark’ Tourism. This had really taken off because people are now interested in History, no matter how distressing. The UK has always promoted the Tower of London. There is a whole lecture on how Anne Boleyn’s head was chopped off on orders of Henry the VIII. The wooden block and the sword are on display. One can even take a ‘Jack the Ripper’ tour. Go slightly south and you can visit the Beaches of the Normandy landings – complete with rusted cannon and fortifications. Recently an Austrian court has ordered the Country’s government to pay the former owner of Adolf Hitler’s house US$ 1.7 million. The house is located in the medieval town of Braunau. With the ultra right governments gaining power in the EU, it is only a matter of time before this house becomes a major tourist attraction. In the context of Pakistan, the house in Abbottabad where Osama Bin Laden was finally taken out, should never have been demolished. It would have earned megabucks for the Tourist Development Corporation of Pakistan. Even the US Navy Seals, who conducted the operation, would have promoted it as a hallmark of their bravery and precision commando skills.
(The writer is the former Executive Director of the Management Association of Pakistan)
(This news/article originally appeared in Business Recorder on June 11th, 2019)