Tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan:
Gilgit-Baltistan region, extremely mountainous, covers an area of over 72,971 km². The approximate population of this region is 2 million and the region’s capital city is Gilgit. Very rich in natural resources, Gilgit-Baltistan is known for its natural beauty, having the 8 of tallest mountains in the world – second highest 8611 m K2 “Chogori”, third highest 8125 m Nanga Parbat) and more than fifty peaks above 7,000 meters.
Gilgit-Baltistan is the meeting point of the world’s four famous high altitude mountains ranges, i.e. Karakorum, Himalayas, Hindu Kush and the Pamir. Also, three of the world’s longest glaciers outside the Polar regions are located in Gilgit-Baltistan.
This amazing and marvelous region comprises extraordinarily diverse and attractive landscapes and spectacles of the world. Tourism in trekking, mountaineering, and hiking has vast opportunities; this industry is very important for Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. As we know tourism industry of any country contributes a vital role in the country’s wealth. Gilgit-Baltistan has one of Pakistan’s most important tourism destinations. It is rich in cultural heritage, including architectural sites such as palaces, forts, and mosques, and archaeological sites such as ancient stone circles and Buddhist stupas. A diverse nature of living cultural expressions, as reflected in the region’s languages, festivals, foods, sports, traditional music, arts, and handicrafts.
Tourism is one of the main sources of income of Gilgit-Baltistan, the region makes most of the country assets but the Federal Government doesn’t share the actual part of resources income with Gilgit-Baltistan. Besides, this region also produces more than 70 percent of dry fruits consumed inside the country and abroad. Another major source of the region’s economy is it has the hub of the energy sector; a large quantity of water, a huge capacity of producing water hydropower. The land is very rich in natural resources, minerals, glaciers, mountains, plants, animals, lot of other resources. These are some major areas which Federal and Local Government should focus and pay attention to improve the lifestyle of people in Gilgit-Baltistan like particularly in tourism, Agro industries, health sector, educational development, water channels construction and social welfare the Federal Government must strengthen the power and jurisdiction of Gilgit-Baltistan Government.
Chinese Tourists and Pakistan:
On 20th April 2015, Chinese news agency Xinhua characterized the relationship between Pakistan and China as an “ironclad friendship.”
According to Government officials in Pakistan, the number of tourist visa applications submitted to Pakistani embassy by Chinese people in the last year 2016 has jumped up high. The interest of Chinese tourist towards Pakistan is a positive sign for the tourism industry.
Especially, the tourism industry of Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is a “Tourist Hub”, and shares a border with Xinjiang autonomous region of China, has a huge potential to benefit from the increased arrival of Chinese tourists.
According to a report published by China Daily, the visa center of Ctrip, a dominant online travel agency in China, has said that compared to last year, Chinese tourists/travelers were more interested in exploring new tourism destinations/places, including Pakistan.
“The strong relations between the two countries is the reason many Chinese tourists put Pakistan on the top list of their future travel plans”, said Shi Yuzhuan, the Marketing Director of Citrip’s Hotel Division.
As the world knows that Pakistan is strongly supporting China’s policies and positions on important international issues, the youth of China, especially those online (the netizens), are taking keen interest in Pakistan, as a long time supporter of their country. As China marches towards more global prominence and dominance, the importance of a friendly and supportive Pakistan will also increase manifolds.
In the past, Pakistan did not attract many Chinese tourists. despite a very good diplomatic relation, mainly because of the security situation. The interest shown by China’s netizens in Pakistan needs to be capitalized on. As Pakistan becomes stable, due to the ongoing anti-terrorism operations, and as the infrastructure improves, more Chines and other international tourists will gain the confidence to visit the country.
There is a huge economic potential in encouraging Chinese tourist because the country is big, and the billion plus population is becoming richer, and eager to travel and spend money. Pakistan has all the beauty and culture and history to attract Chinese tourists.
China has also taken some initiatives to encourage Chinese potential tourist about Pakistan. The Chinese State owned media has done a couple of different programs related to tourism destinations and the people’s lifestyle in Pakistan. The main purpose of this step was to educate and aware the Chinese people about the culture, food, and landscapes of the Pakistan in order to persuade and motivate them to travel Pakistan. The security situation in the country has improved in somehow and in the last two years and the number of Chinese tourists and businessmen seemingly has increased.
Challenges for Tourism Industry of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan:
One of the major barriers to the development of Pakistan tourism industry is that the Pakistan has a bad image in the world. A well-organized propaganda is producing by some countries against Pakistan, which created misunderstanding and misconception in the global community about peaceful Gilgit-Baltistan. International Media is not playing a responsible role, instead of showing the both side of the story and covering all kind of news, media is only focusing the dark side. The national media is not doing the job well, but somehow national media does present the positive side of the country which is not really enough to encounter the international propaganda. Also, national media doesn’t have the access to the international media due to limited resources, lack of technology and skills.
When it comes to tourism, Gilgit-Baltistan becomes epicenter or focal point of Pakistan, attracting millions of foreign and domestic tourist every year, even though the facilities provided by the government of Pakistan are highly low. This creates a lot of problems for tourists, especially international tourists which is a very negative sign concerning the future of tourism industry and potential tourist. The reason behind the deficiency of tourism industry is also because of lack of security, locally-derived policy guidelines; insufficient financing in tourism growth; poor tourism infrastructure; lack of human resource; and the absence of an overall marketing strategy and approach with the coordinated product and image development. The special administrative status and sensitive geopolitical location of the region also serve as a barrier to tourism development.
Gilgit-Baltistan is the starting point of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor approximately $50 billion investments by the Chinese Government as a part of One-Belt One-Road Initiative. CPEC will bring Pakistanis and Chinese further closer towards each other, maximizing the common interests and minimizing all stereotype theories. Local people of Gilgit-Baltistan demands and protests for fair returns of revenues on the natural resources of the region being used by the whole country like tourism, hydroelectric, mineral, and trade. One of the biggest sources of income for local people is tourism industry which is not getting proper attention from the federal government.
The contributor is a Masters student at the Communication University of China, Beijing.