Gilgit Baltistan is famous for its eye-catching dioramas of a lake, robust snow clade mountains, breathtaking glaciers, pristine waterfalls, and glimpses of unabated deserts making it a perfect attraction spot for both domestic and international tourists. The region offers a wide range of adventurous activities for tourists like mountaineering (the mighty K-2, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum, etc), desert safari (Sarfaranga desert), trophy-hunting, trekking, water rafting, swimming competitions, etc. Moreover, once tourists visit GB their perception of Pakistan undergoes a complete change.
The strategic location of GB is important because it lies between the three most powerful countries (India, China, and Pakistan). Therefore, it can enjoy the maximum flux of tourists, especially from China. One of the studies conducted in 2017, shows that around 143 million people have traveled throughout the world from China. In addition, a study published by C. Texror, says that the contribution of Chinese travelers in global tourism ranked 1st in the world. In 2019 alone, Chinese visitors spent about $254.6 billion on global tourism, as compared to $277 billion in 2018. Therefore, it can enable GB to generate $2.5bn, if GB diverts only 1% of Chinese tourists.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, everyone gets benefits from this sector, either directly or indirectly, and it is crucial in terms of job creation. Amid the summer season, almost everyone can sell, like apricots, cherry, mulberry, walnut, apple, etc. at a profitable rate. Although, during summers, people get jobs such as tourist guides, drivers, entrepreneurs, or interpreters, and generate income, to meet their winter household expenses. In addition, as the flux of tourists is surpassing over time, the government is also showing their interest in this field by spending money to upgrade infrastructure and hoteling. Moreover, people have started to invest a huge amount in hoteling and purchasing new vehicles that will create enormous job opportunities for the people of GB, in the future.
Besides, it is also an opportunity for them, to export their local products (apricot oils, Melbury jam, cherry, grapes, etc.) into the international market. However, the tourists will facilitate other countries that they may know more about the magical fruits, different types of herb and shrubs of the region. This may enable the world to enjoy these cheaper and unique products, and use them for different medical purposes. Furthermore, God has bestowed this region with unique gifts, one of them being Markhor. Many foreign tourists come to this region, especially for hunting of markhor. According to an official, in 2018, a Spanish named John March paid a fee of $83000 to the authorities, to get a permit for Markhor hunting. Moreover, its clement weather condition is another source, which is why many people from different areas like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, etc. visit GB to enjoy its articulate mild weather.
In GB, there are potent investment opportunities for investors. The main factor that can attract investors are, it is a safe area as well as a free tax zone, proximity with China and central Asia for the exports of tourism-related products. In addition, with the improvement of infrastructure, more foreign and local tourists are commuting towards GB, which may help to entwine GB with the world, both socially and economically. But the grave problem related to tourism is, it is seasonal. Therefore, amid winter the unemployment rate increases. Although in winter, GB has more potential to divert tourists’ attention towards them through DeosaI Ski traversing, snow marathon, ice hockey on the frozen lake, it is underutilized. This time the Minister of Tourism seems to work hard to curtail the seasonality in tourism. He tweeted that “to fight the abiding seasonality in tourism, the potential of winter tourism will be used, for example, 500 km khunjerab snow Marathon, Deosai Ski traversing and Naltar snow skiing and avalanche rescue. He is optimistic to attract more tourists in winter to dismantle the seasonality in tourism.
With the increasing tourist flux in GB, investors from outside are investing huge amounts in hotels like Byrsa, Sarina, etc. Although, it is good because they are providing accommodation amenities to the huge flux of tourists,, these private investors are profit makers, so they do not think about nature destruction. Besides, they have more marginal social costs as compared to marginal social benefits. Because, they are constructing restaurants near lakes, and its sewerage system is directly opened into the lake. Also, they are building hostels by cutting down trees, which is affecting the whole society precariously. Also, society is bearing the cost directly, not by the profit makers. It is an eloquently grave problem therefore, to enhance marginal social benefits, meager tax should be imposed on these profit makers.
A study conducted by a local community perspective, says that the impact of tourists will be in the form of excessive deforestation, loss of biodiversity, generation of solid waste, air, and water pollution. Furthermore, inadequate production or supply is another major issue. Whenever the tourist’s flux is at their maximum peak, then due to excess demand of goods like trout fish, meat, oil, petrol, these products supply become plummet because of low production or low storage. Likewise, In GB, there is no such mechanism to cater sufficient supply of goods that could balance the excess demand. Therefore, it may affect the tourist’s utility i.e. they cannot maximize their satisfaction due to a limited supply of commodities.
With time, different people from different countries, having different ideologies are commuting to GB, therefore can they protect their culture or not? What steps they are devising to protect their culture? Furthermore, town planning is one of the direly needed strategies, the lack of town planning means, no planning for the construction of houses, hotels, no planning for their sewerage system. Moreover, due to the expansion of cities like Skardu and Gilgit, their cultivated land has been depleting since 2016. Despite, having ample water around Skardu, their people are facing water and electricity shortage. Besides, it will adversely affect our agriculture production. Now, people instead of cultivating wheat, maize themselves from their land, prefer to demand these commodities from Punjab, KP, etc. This creates extra demand for these goods, which pressurize the federal government to import thus, leading to the current account deficit.
Our government needs to maneuver different strategies to make GB an attractive spot for tourists and they need to focus on the strategy of countries like China and Abu Dhabi. Like, Abu Dhabi is an example that devised a policy to magnetize Chinese tourists by roadshows and promotional exhibitions in China and organize their cultural festivals. Moreover, our relationship with India should be good and allow them to start flights between Ladakh to Skardu and from Kashgar, China, and Kathmandu to Skardu. Furthermore, roads between Kargil-Skardu and Khaplu-Ladakh should be opened to attract more tourists from India through bus service. Besides, it would reunite those families who are living on both sides of LOC for the last 63 years.
With the passage of time tourists’ priorities and preferences are changing therefore, the government should follow the system of conducting regular surveys on tourists’ satisfaction levels and motives. Furthermore, there should be a meager tax on those investors, who are investing from outside GB, to equate marginal social benefit to marginal social cost. Also, a special task force should be constituted under the ministry of tourism, which will act as a coordinating agent between entrepreneurs, and various government departments. And this task force will also help to resolve the issues related to water supply and sewerage systems.