MARITIME tourism is now considered to be an important segment in a multi-trillion dollars and multivariate global tourism industry. It offers one of the newest avenues and fastest growing areas for a significant role in global economies. Various countries such as Maldives, Singapore, Indian State of Kerala and Thailand etc have focused on tourism products related to maritime tourism which evolved over period of time. They devised strategic policies and plans with good governance principles and succeeded in sustainable revenue generation with an increased domestic and foreign tourists flux for maritime tourism. The Kerala Tourism Statistics 2017, reveals an impressive tourism based earning over US$ 5 billion per annum and the Maldives Tourism Yearbooks 2007-2017 also provide encouraging facts that Maldives’s economy primarily relies on maritime tourism with approximate 28.78% of its contribution towards national GDP.
Pakistan also has immense maritime tourism potential with more than a 1000 km long serene coast-line with sandy and sunny beaches, which is blessed with diversified natural, religious and cultural attractions, along with connectivity through coastal highway. The Balochistan coastline possesses muddy cliffs with rocky land and number of sandy sunny beaches as well as Ramsar sites, including the Hingol National Park & Buzi Makola Wildlife Sanctuary, Astola Island, Miani Hor, Jiwani, Ormara, Gwadar, Pasni and Mangrove forests. Architectural resources include tombs, forts, mosques, graves, and other historical monuments in Balochistan. Whereas, Sindh’s potential coastal tourism resources also include rich biodiversity, protected areas, serene sandy beaches, mangrove forests, and the internationally renowned Indus Delta. Karachi is among the mega cities of the world with a middle class hungry for beach activities and warm waters.
Many maritime tourism products such as dolphin/wildlife/green turtle watching, scuba diving, live aboard, backwater tourism, 28m Lighthouse at Manora, cruising, water-sports, model village, Gadani ship-breaking yard, Paradise Point, Gadani Fish Harbour, beach activities, Somiani Spaceport, hot air balloon joy rides, paragliding, parasailing, camping, hiking trails, speed boating/water scooter riding/banana boat riding/sea kayaking, and other hospitality services can be introduced in Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan upgraded the tourism sector to a separate industry status in 1989. However, it is still ranked very low ie. 125 in terms of the world tourism income. Under Pakistan’s National Tourism Policy (1990), the Federal Government was advised to establish a Beach Development Authority for the development of beaches and to provide incentives for the equipment of water sports activities. The National Maritime Policy (NMP-2002) has also underlined the importance of maritime tourism as it proposed to the Ministry of Sports, Culture, Tourism & Youth Affairs, with collaboration of Sindh and Balochistan provinces to devise a long-term effective policy for promotion of maritime tourism and water sports activities.
However, the federal context of the tourism segment was changed particularly after the 18th Amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan. After this amendment, tourism became purely a provincial subject with no clarity on the responsible institution for maritime tourism and all other incentives as were guaranteed vide the National Tourism Policy 1990. Due to these bottlenecks and for some other reasons: Political instability and prevailing security situation after 9/11, things could not move in the right direction to put into practice any improved version of policies in Balochistan and Sindh to address outstanding issues and harness the true potential of maritime tourism in Pakistan. Although Pakistan is facing many challenges in tourism sector of economy, the gravity of issues is more severe in case of coastal tourism; however, it can be a success story like Maldives where tourism was considered impossible. The experiences of Maldives and Kerala on maritime tourism activities may be equally replicated in many locations of Pakistan coastline. The factors behind the success stories of Maldives and Kerala State in India can act as guidance for taking initiatives on the proposed potential of coastal tourism sites in order to uplift the maritime tourism sector in Pakistan.
The establishment of National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) in March 2019 with different working groups including Maritime Tourism working group is a great initiative for the revival of tourism in Pakistan and Maritime tourism based economy can reach a greater height if NTCB remains vibrant and effective role of provinces is ensured. However, national determination, strategic planning and its effective execution along-with good governance norms and product-based approach would be critical for the vibrant role of NTCB and addressing requirements for maritime tourism in accordance with its National Strategy Paper/Plan that was prepared during October 2019. To kick-start maritime tourism, NTCB needs to devise a comprehensive Maritime Tourism Strategic Plan & Road Map, along with actions for revisiting existing policies, legal and institutional framework by identifying gaps in national/provincial regulations, laws and policies, which hamper development of maritime tourism. In addition, establish a Maritime Tourism Agency/Board as a regulatory and coordination body among various stakeholders, and prepare its rules and regulations for one-window operations. Further, the Federal Government needs to de-conflict various Government Security Agencies and Allied departments.
—The writer is a Maritime Researcher at National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA), Islamabad.