By: | Muhammad Ali Azlan |
Hotel Management, tourism and hospitality are budding disciplines in Pakistan, a country who always gets highlighted for the wrong reasons in international media but all of a sudden the country has seen a massive boom in it’s tourism industry which has a lot to do with the social media upheaval created by few of the biggest Youtube celebrities and influencers who are now visiting the country consistently, but as a Pakistani, I too must be honest, upfront and truthful about the country I live in and what it represents and offers.
Alex, an American traveler behind the travel blog ‘Lost With Purpose’, was invited to speak at the Pakistan Tourism Summit last month. However, she says her talk was cancelled last minute as the organisers said it was too critical and didn’t fit the agenda of the summit which only wanted to promote the “good” Pakistan had to offer brushing the “bad” and or difficult side of things that a traveler might face in the country of over 220 million.
Pakistan has seen an extremely volatile past and there is still no smooth sailing and guarantees of safety when it comes to visiting the region in it’s entirety and to really explore what the place is about, I agree wholeheartedly about the beauty and potential Pakistan has to offer and how welcoming, warm and generous we people are but we are also unfortunately a hotbed for nefarious proxy elements who are busy trying to sabotage the country since it’s inception for various reasons, I would also like to mention the internal elements who have been busy aiding and abetting miscreants for their own short term goals in turn empowering the evil and weakening the state.
Local guides and friends along with some basic knowledge about the land is a must and you just can’t strap on a backpack and travel with absolutely no plan. It’s a massive place, with lots to see and delve into. Then there is the adventurous side of things, one leaves there comfort zone to perhaps experience these very dangers and obstacles that come along with travelling, almost all the third world countries have some sort of armed resistance and security related concerns but those looking for an adventure of a lifetime and that adrenaline ‘fix’ still visit those places and come back with stories that are told and remembered throughout generations to come.
For a Pakistani, Muslim traveler, a European country might present the same challenges that Pakistan does to those visiting Pakistan from Europe or America. Alex talks about being harassed by the security agencies at various checkpoints and that holds true for us as well when we travel outside Pakistan, it is perhaps just the world we live in now.
I am all in favor of whatever is happening but sugar coating stuff and presenting an overly positive experience when one visits Pakistan, we should be upfront and honest and I believe Pakistan would still have the pull which is needed to attract an open minded travel looking for the next big adventure of his/her life.
Emily Hauze who has visited Pakistan 10 times already (particularly, Sindh) describes what to expect and what to be wary of in the best way possible and I think it warrants a read.
I feel compelled to comment after learning about travel blogger Alex Reynolds and the controversy around the presentation she wished to give at the Pakistan Tourism Summit. I think it is a shame that she did not have a chance to share her criticisms, which are thoughtful and accurate, and which come from a desire to help Pakistan improve in the area of tourism. I think that all of you know how deeply I love Pakistan, and especially Sindh, and what a wonderful time I have had on all of my ten (yes, ten!) trips to the area. At the same time, I can attest that all of Alex’s points are correct and need to be addressed.
Like Alex Reynolds, I have felt uncomfortable at the recent spate of travel vloggers, generally white women, who are breezily praising the wonders of tourism in Pakistan. Part of what makes me uncomfortable, though, is that I am very easily mistaken for one of them. I was quite upset when, for a TV interview during my last trip, I was labelled as “Emily Hauze, Tourist.” When I am in Pakistan, I do engage in some typical tourist activities, but not for the same reason as a tourist would. I do not come for light adventures on holiday, or to be pampered in hotels, and see new sights. I must forgive people who think that is what I am doing, because it can have that appearance at times. But tourism bloggers generally make a career of traveling all around the world, and they write for a public who are likely to visit any given country only once or twice before moving on to some other place of interest.
I am a traveler, but I have devoted myself to Pakistan alone. When I visit Sindh, I come with the purpose of learning deeply about the place, of experiencing family life, exploring culture and traditions, improving my language skills, and above all immersing myself in the poetry of Shah Latif. I do not come as a tourist.
If I were a tourist, and primarily interested in the industry of tourism, I would offer exactly the same criticisms as Alex Reynolds. Planning a trip to Pakistan is not the same thing as booking a ticket to Italy, or going on safari in South Africa, or countless other typical holiday destinations. Pakistan requires a much more demanding awareness from its visitors.
Like Alex, I must emphasize that the efforts required to travel to Pakistan are, in my opinion, entirely worthwhile. And the hospitality of the Pakistani people is unparalleled. If a foreigner is fortunate enough to come to the country with even one connection to a local friend, then that visitor will be treated with every possible consideration, kept safe, transported, fed, and delighted with Pakistani company throughout the trip.
But I cannot imagine coming to Pakistan entirely on my own, without the benefit of friends and family. How would I transport myself? How would I know how to report myself correctly to the security agencies who are inevitably following my progress? How would I know what is safe to eat, or where to stay? How would I know how to comport myself respectfully and in keeping with local traditions and sensitivities? If I were truly a tourist, and not an honorary Sindhi, these would be huge problems.
The travel bloggers who have recently made waves by glorifying their own experience of tourism in Pakistan cannot really relate to a genuine tourist. These women (and they are mostly white women, who like myself enjoy privileges simply on the basis of skin color) are not really traveling on their own: they come with film crews and handlers and travel as quasi-celebrities, not as genuine vacation-goers. I am glad that they have had a good time in Pakistan — the country of my heart — but their representation of tourism is not going to be relevant to any average, non-celebrity traveler.
My own purpose in Pakistan and especially in Sindh is significantly different from the purpose of the travel bloggers, even though it may look similar on the surface. The tourism industry, to put it frankly, is of very minor interest to me. My love of Pakistan is far deeper than tourism. My message is not just for potential visitors to come and see the sights. I hope instead to send a message to people who have misunderstood Pakistan until now, or who perhaps haven’t thought of it deeply at all. I would like for the average Westerner to know that Pakistan is a wonderful place, and not a den of terrorists, as they might be led to believe by the stories that make the international news. I want people to have access to the extraordinary culture and history of my favorite country, and my travels can bring some of this to them. I want to share the marvelous poetry of my Sindh, especially that of Shah Latif, who is virtually unknown in most American circles. I want people to have a positive notion of my favorite country, whether they ever visit it or not. I want them to welcome Pakistani visitors to their own regions with the same love that I have received when visiting Pakistan. Travel and sight-seeing are big components of my goal, but never at the heart of what I do.
In effect, I have indeed “glorified” Pakistan, if what is meant by that is that I regularly highlight the beauties and delights of the country. But I have never done this for the sake of boosting the tourism industry. Of course, I would love to see a Pakistan in which foreign tourists can easily come, stay a while, and pour a little money into the economy before going on their merry way. But before that will be possible, all of the issues that Alex Reynolds has raised in her censored presentation must truly be resolved.
I agree with Emily’s sentiments completely but nothing should be misunderstood, Pakistan is not for the faint of heart, but I can vouch that it’s worth the effort.
Travel and explore with open eyes, hearts, minds and mouth and revel in the undiscovered treasures that Pakistan has to offer the world.
The writer tweets @Muhammad Ali Azlan