WITH an immense maritime tourism potential on a serene coast line of more than 1000 km with sandy & sunny beaches, it is the right time for Pakistan to take an initiative for the development of high-end tourism which is possible on different sites alongside the Sindh and Balochistan coast, under the umbrella of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The high-end tourism means to ensure the presence of superior services of the best quality with a variety of products for tourists in a convenient, comfortable, peaceful and engaging manner. Foreign tourists demand a few set of services which include: personalized service, good quality beds with good quality linen for comfortable sleep, a reliable transport system to commute, comfortable vehicles, a number of good quality local traditional as well as foreign cuisines along with a relaxing environment, exclusivity, professional staff, and safe and secure environment.
There might be difference of opinions about the fate and initiation timeframe of high-end maritime tourism in Pakistan due to various reasons such as the prevailing security environment in Balochistan and provision of basic necessities. It may be an early step in Pakistan, where maritime tourism is apparently not visible. However, it is critically important to realize that the time has now come for the Government to take visionary steps with proper strategies and action oriented plans in the tourism sector, for which the maritime segment is highly important in order to get results in a shorter time period of time.
The sustainable coastal livelihood and poverty alleviation is an important agenda and the Government of Pakistan also has an obligation under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1 & 11. The government’s slogan and actions for initiation of high-end tourism on 2-3 sites can bring impulsive development by stimulating and encouraging Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) development in designated areas for which stakes of local investors would then be high. The trust of local entrepreneurs would also be enhanced in Government policies with the inclusion of private investment in hospitality services; development of such model sites would ultimately attract a large number of foreign and domestic tourists in a shorter time span. Additionally, the Government’s initiative under CPEC for the high-end tourism will create some amazing job opportunities for the uplift of livelihood of coastal communities and will definitely boost the economy of the country.
For the initial projects, it would be wise to develop high-end tourism resorts, water sports and other related activities under CPEC on 2-3 identified locations based on a cluster approach for different nearby sites and types of tourism products. The best potential cluster sites may be the Kund Malir in Balochistan and Keti Bunder in Sindh. Development of these potential sites will create a quantum impact on Pakistan’s economy. It is the right time to strategize and initiate parallel interventions so that Pakistan’s maritime tourism can be a big success in shorter time span of 5 to 7 years unlike Maldives success over 3 decades.
Nani Mandir, a Hindu temple at Hingham is one of the largest Hindu pilgrimage places in Pakistan with more than 250,000 visitations for Hinglaj Yatra in spring season every year. Different high-end tourism products including good hospitality services, hot air balloon joy rides for the scenic beauty of geological formations in the area, wildlife including bird and crocodile watching, water sports activities, historical museums and other related activities can be introduced in the area by establishing it as part of Kund Malir Cluster Site, which is a sunny, sandy beach in Balochistan located on Makran Coastal Highway and in Hingol National Park.
The geological formations have wonderful weathered structures including the one artistic master piece named as Princess of Hope by eminent Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie during her visit to this naturally beautiful area near Buzi Pass. Apart from hot-air balloon ride, tourist can do a lot of other activities such as photography with movie shoot, paragliding, hiking and camping to enjoy wilderness. At Kund Malir, different leisure activities including water sports activities, scuba diving, parasailing, hotels, motels, restaurants, model tourist village, camping sites, hiking trails and wildlife watching spots can be developed. With the development of this site, not only Hindu communities but also domestic & foreign tourists will equally enjoy the area with a religious, joyful and relaxing environment. This will also create better livelihood opportunities for the coastal communities.
Now, the question arises about how the aspirations for a high-end maritime tourism along Pakistan’s coast can be materialized? To me, it would be wise for the National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) to play its vibrant role in mobilizing and linking CPEC investment with this intervention. The Balochistan Coastal Development Authority (BCDA) and Government of Sindh should be taken on-board with effective coordination. Pakistan Navy and other security agencies can play their significant role towards the security environment in the region. The Pakistan Navy can also complement and strengthen BCDA for the development of maritime tourism products.
As part of its National Strategy Paper, NTCB should explore policy avenues and waivers/ incentives in coordination with provincial governments so that public or private sector investors can also enter into these amazing and in the long run good rewarding interventions through many possible ways. BCDA or the Government of Sindh both can also initiate Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects on BOT basis for which arrangements with CPEC or any other investment windows may also be explored and process be initiated in accordance with the guidance under PPP Authority Act 2017. An early response under CPEC can produce significant results. Fiscal incentives in the form of tax holidays can be provided to the investors through lease agreements with the mutual consent of Balochistan Coastal Development Authority and Sindh Provincial Government, and where required, the inclusion of the Federal Government. In case if required, Pakistan needs to develop better lease instrument by comparing Maldives.
—The writer is a Maritime Researcher at National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA), Islamabad.