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Project Punjab

on October 23 | in Encore, footloose | by | with No Comments

Post-18th-amendment, Punjab’s Sufi shrines, historic monuments, riversides, shopping markets and much more are about to be marketed aggressively to promote tourism.
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

Those who have been to the historic Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, may remember being welcomed by a man donning the colourful attire of an Ottoman-era courtier — his demeanor reflecting the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire.

People stand in queues to get a photograph taken with him and the museum administration charges a decent amount for this.

Though a bit ambitious, the Punjab government has devised a plan, which if executed properly, will offer Pakistanis a similar experience — a brush with our history!

As the plan goes, the Punjab government will transform historic monuments and archeological sites into vibrant places — full of life, fun and activity. The dusty and dull historical sites that disappoint visitors will hopefully be a thing of the past, hopes Punjab’s tourism minister, Rana Mashood, who is spearheading tourism policymaking at the provincial level.

Take the Lahore Fort. Here, Mashood plans to recreate the scene of the Mughal courts — parading courtiers, loitering chobdars, subedars, wazirs and other nobles…

Historians, painters, archeologists and fashion designers have been assigned the task of designing their costumes.

Over the last few months, the functionaries related to the Punjab tourism sector have been striving hard to formulate a tourism policy to lure tourists to the province. The enthusiasm or exigency observed is unprecedented. One wonders what has charged the authorities with this newfound energy.

Tourism became a provincial subject after the passage of 18th amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan. Now it is up to the provincial governments to make policies, develop products and announce incentives for promotion of tourism. The ultimate aim is to bring in foreign tourists, but for the time being at least, the focus is on facilitating the local ones — once local tourists start to throng tourist destinations, the foreign ones will follow soon.

What has Punjab to offer for tourism purposes? It has no snow-capped mountains, pristine valleys, cool climate, lush forests or roaring rivers that attracts adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts. But the yet-to-be-announced tourism policy plans to market its scenic beauty, historical monuments, cultural diversity and hospitable people: “Punjab has all the elements to become a destination of choice for tourists… Through development and management of well-articulated policies, products, marketing strategies and public-private partnerships, the tourism sector in Punjab will contribute to the over-all socio-economic development of Pakistan…”

The policy-makers believe that Punjab tourism stands to benefit from the calmer security situation. The tourists feel secure in this part of the country and are not reluctant to undertake road journeys.

Besides promoting history and culture, the policy-makers are hoping to develop the province as a shoppers’ haven, expanding the product range of souvenirs and livening up archeology sites such as Harappa and Taxila, better circulation and proper utilisation of the ‘Explore Punjab’ magazine published by the Punjab tourism department, and uploading 3D imagery of existing and potential tourist sites on the internet with the help of Google.

It plans to invite Comsats Institute of Information Technology to set up an archeology department next to the Harappa site.

Rana Mashood is surprised by the fact that there is neither a concept of a souvenir shop nor of producing quality literature and CDs to market Punjab tourism internationally.

The minister wants to target those Pakistanis who go to Dubai and London to shop. He desires to bring such luxuries to the doorsteps of shopaholoics.

The Punjab government signed an agreement with Google last year to project the images of Punjab but it took them a year to get security approval from security agencies.

Private players in the tourism industry are of the view that mere product development at state level will not work. The private sector will have to play the lead role. They say the government must act as a facilitator: “For example, the archaeological sites will not attract visitors if there are no restaurants, hotels, rest areas and vegetation around it,” says a representative of the hotel industry.

Iqbal Haider, lead consultant of the project, tells TNS the tourism policy will not be formed in isolation and concerns of every stakeholder will be heeded to. The private sector definitely has the lead role and the government is holding consultations with the business sector on a regular basis precisely for this reason.

The private sector, he says, will be invited to invest in projects on private-public partnership basis, which he thinks is the best model in this scenario.

The opportunities are many. The key to success lies in how they are harnessed. “There are shrines of sufi saints, deserts, five rivers, urban and rural landscapes, remnants of civilisations as old as Hakra and Indus, wetlands, manmade forests like Changa Manga and more. What else do we need?” says Haider.

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