South Asia is home to one third of the worlds population. It comprises of one of the most diverse populations and cultures which have worked as potential economic and geographical resources for several countries all over the world. Significant researches found that one of the best brains that run the world on different platforms have their roots from South Asia. SAARC countries are rich in natural resources with unique and astounding geographical locations and ecology (Timothy, & Nyaupane, 2009). The top highest mountain peaks of the world exist in the region of South Asia; Mount Everest and K2. One of the worlds best water resources lie in South Asia, having a vast river system mainly originating from the Himalayas. Moreover, some of the richest ocean resources exist in South Asia which include rich mangrove areas such as Sunderbans and coral reefs of Maldives. The biodiversity of South Asia is vast and holds great historic values. The cultural heritage of South Asia dates back thousands of years and hence it hosts marvels such as Ajanta, Timpu, Taj Mahal, Taxila and many other great wonders (Timothy, & Nyaupane, 2009).
Factors Resisting the Survival and Growth of Tourism Industry in South Asia
SAARC countries have been extracting several riches such as spices, gold, coal, gas and several more gemstones. Because of the availability of rich resources and great manpower, South Asian countries have been a common playground for several colonial powers. Now South Asian countries are independent and host almost all the religions of the world, contributing an increase in the diversity and cultural importance of the region (Alwis, 2009). Regardless of such attractive aspects of South Asia, more than 400 million people live below poverty line and approximately 71 million people are impacted by some sort of violence or similar threats. There are several issues revolving around the region which include health, poverty, child and gender issues (Alwis, 2009). All such issues are unregulated due to the weak control of the government and lack of proper attention to these issues. One of the latest and most talked about issues that revolve around South Asia, is the issue of Terrorisms. Afghanistan is considered the originating land of Taliban, Pakistan is considered the host for Taliban, India is facing terrorists attack due to conflicts regarding Kashmir and the list goes on. These are few significant factors which have deteriorated the tourism industry of South Asia (Alwis, 2009).
Current Conditions of Tourism Industry in South Asia
In order to analyze the condition of SAARC nations’ tourism industry it is important to ponder upon the rates of visitors in this particular region. In the year 2010, the region of South Asia was able to attract only 1.1% of the 898 million visitors from all over the world. This makes a total of only 9.7 million visitors in South Asia which comprises of a total of eight countries. If compared with Europe, this is a very low number of visitors because Europe received 53% of the total visitors from all over the world during the same year (UNWTO, 2011). On the other hand, Asia Pacific region was able to double its tourism industry within seven years as they received 85 million visitors in 2003 and 198 million visitors in 2010. During this period of growth, South Asia was able to grow on a marginal scale that also was not achieved among all countries of South Asia (UNWTO, 2011).
Few SAARC countries sparked off its tourism industry such as India and Maldives and hence, they are the potential tourist attractions in the whole of South Asia (Hassan, 2006). Not to forget Nepal, which is considered the gemstone of South Asia, is famous for its beautiful sights and great cultural heritage. Nepal has also increased its tourism industry quite well, however due to their internal political issues; the government has not paid much attention towards the tourism sector of the country (Timothy, & Nyaupane, 2009). Other beauties of South Asia include Sri Lanka which is surrounded by exotic beaches and is also one of the most visited countries of the world. Bhutan is known as the Himalayan Kingdom of South Asian nations because it is an adventure attraction and has great cultural heritage adding to the enjoyment of the visitors. Alpine forests and 7000 meters of Himalayan region along with the beautiful architecture of its kingdom have been attracting an abundant amount of visitors to Bhutan (Saarc Tourism, 2011).
Pakistan has great cultural heritage and historic places. The various tourism attractions of the country range from the ruins of civilizations like Taxila, Mohenjo-Daro, Harrapa, to the kingdoms of Mughals such as the Alamgir Gate, Badshahi Masjid, Faiz Mahal, Animist Kalasha and many more. Natural beauty of Pakistan includes Malam Jabba, Khyber Steam Train Safari, Naran Valley, Swat Valley, Murree, Bhurban, Indus River, and many more stunning areas where people can visit and be amazed by the gorgeous natural structures. Most importantly the Arabian Sea, mainly at the Gwadar Port and Kund Malir are one of the most striking natural beaches in South Asia (Timothy, & Nyaupane, 2009).
Regardless of such attractions, Pakistan has been losing its tourism industry due to the consistent terrorist activities going on in the North Western part of the country. The attack on Swat valley, capture of Osama bin Laden from Abbottabad and the consistent drone attacks on the North-Western borders of the country and all such events which have discouraged global visitors from coming to Pakistan. The risk of security, rising pollution, health problems, poverty and lack of overall government funding has led to a declined number of tourists in this region and hence the tourism industry has almost collapsed (Hassan, 2006).
Keeping in mind such beautiful sights of each SAARC country and the potential experience attached to visiting these sights, it is important to consider why tourism rate has been declining and how these declining rates can be reimbursed (Kaur, 2008). The region of South Asia has promoted tourism since decades and only few countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, India and Bhutan have been successful in achieving considerable amount of growth in their tourism industry. In the year 1980, an organization led by the Secretariat in Colombo aimed towards promoting tourism in SAARC countries by developing World Tourism Organization. This initiative, however, failed due to the lack of appropriate support from each SAARC country’s tourism sector (Kaur, 2008). Another attempt was made by the SAARC Chambers of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) which mainly began from Nepal. A promotional tagline was also designed “Magic that is South Asia”. This attempt by SCCI hoped to improve the private sector of the SAARC nations, however productive outcome was not achieved within the same decade (Marg, 2009).
SAARC countries have always emphasized on the importance of tourism and have considered it as a major asset for their countries. During several SAARC Summit meetings SAARC leaders have emphasized on accentuating the tourism industry of the region. On the 12th Summit which was held in Islamabad in the year 2004 during which SAARC Leaders exerted extra significance on the mutual support of the SAARC countries to accentuate tourism because it would bring social, economic and cultural dividends. Due to such immense emphasis, the year of 2005 was designated as the “South Asia Tourism Year” and each country was supposed to celebrate it both individually and jointly. Similar efforts were conducted in the year 2011 along with the review of previous Action Plans in order to improve past mistakes (Marg, 2009).
Other plausible solutions have been suggested many times, which include the mutual agreement among all SAAR nations to accumulate certain funds jointly and invest in the tourism sector in areas such as security, pollution control, health care and other promotional activities. Such mutual accumulation of funds will require every country’s involvement and hence certain amount of improvement can be sought in each country even if a country doesnââ‚¬â„¢t attempt to do so. This sort of step can help in areas where government is not concentrating and thus SAARC leaders can assign private organizations to lead the tasks. This is a very long term solution and it would require strict involvement by at least half of the SAARC nations for effective implementation, or else the main idea would fail (Raghavan, 1995).
There is considerable improvement found in countries like India, which is being marketed as “Incredible India” along with its wide spread Bollywood industry which is supporting the tourism industry with its pseudo-participation and promoting Indian culture globally (Kumar, 2011). On the other hand Sri Lankan beaches are being used by several companies as an investment for hotels and also movie locations. Another significant improvement is noticeable in Nepal where they are providing discounted packages for travelling places like Kathmandu and similar beautiful areas (Hassan, 2006).
Certain amount of improvement is visible in almost all countries of SAARC, but countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are suffering different issues which are consistently resisting them from promoting their tourism industry. Bangladesh is facing consistent floods and health issues that it is unable to concentrate on its tourism sector. Potential solutions for such countries can be inspired by other countries of SAARC (Alwis, 2009). Pakistan has recently developed its Gwadar Port and beaches, so Pakistan can market these ports in the international market. Furthermore, Pakistan can invest in good promotional techniques like designing a tagline like: “Explore Pakistan”, similar to that of India: “Incredible India”. Such promotional techniques would require certain amount of funding which can be generated from the private sector, because at the current stage of the country, the government sector does not seem to be in a condition that they would concentrate on tourism. Eventually such efforts could lead towards improvement in Tourism (Alwis, 2009).