Promotion of Maritime Tourism to Strengthen Pakistan’s Economy

The tourism industry, in 2022 earned USD 2.5 billion, over 300,000 jobs were created and contribution to GDP was 5%. By 2026 it is estimated that   earnings will rise up to USD 4 billion, jobs increased to 500,000, and contribution to GDP would exceed to 7% (PTDC-2022).  Pakistan Online Visa System is now open for the citizens of 192 Countries, moreover, citizens from 64 Countries are eligible for visa under Tourist Category for 30 days stay on arrival. The citizens from 103 Countries are eligible to apply for Visa on arrival under Business Category.  To facilitate tourism in especially in Northern areas, international flights have started operating from Skardu.  The first international flight from Dubai landed on 14 August 23. Pakistan in world tourism ranking is 84, which is four steps up after Covid 19. Whereas, Maldives is 62, Sri Lanka 74 and India 54. The road & air network and security conditions have much improved. The government should endeavor to identify and develop with public-private partnership, more historic, sightseeing and religious places. Also, facilitate private tour operators to promote tourism. This industry will not only advance economy, it will also create new jobs as well as promote image of Pakistan abroad.  It is more likely that land component of tourism will grow at much faster pace in the years to come. However, main focus of the government is to improve inland tourism therefore, the economic and job creation is mainly from the land areas and marginal from the maritime (coastal and sea) and inland waterways. These sectors have tremendous potential.  The promotion of these sectors will not only create more economic & leisure activities along the coast, sea and waterways but also create jobs for the locals which is a dire need.

Maritime tourism is the sector of the tourism industry that is based on “tourists and visitors taking part in active and passive leisure and holiday pursuits or journeys on (or in) sea & coastal waters, their shorelines and their immediate hinterlands” (Tourism Development International, 2007). Over the years, maritime tourism has become one of the most important economic pillars of a country.  It represents approximately 50 percent of total global tourism which includes tourism infrastructure, impact, visitation, and spending.  The main component of water based maritime tourism is sea cruises on passenger ferries and harbor cruises on designed vessels. It also includes activities like swimming, canoeing, wind-surfing, sport fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, whale watching, seabirds watching, boating, yachting and nautical sports etc.   The manufacturing of equipment, and services necessary for this segment of tourism supplies and industries associated with these activities also form part of maritime tourism. The beach-based covers, sun bathing, walking on the beach, kite competitions, water sports etc. as well as the supplies and manufacturing industries associated to these activities. Inland waterways tourism, include cruises, sailing, canoeing, rowing, water sports, watching the land-based sights, holiday resorts, eateries etc. and manufacturing industries associated with these activities like boat building, landing sights, holiday resorts etc. Most of the developed and developing countries have promoted inland waterway tourism especially in rivers. Pertinent examples are river Thames (London), river Rhine in Cologne & river Elbe in Hamburg, river Nile in Cairo and may other countries worldwide.  

Pakistan is blessed with 1001 Km plus coastline which is approximately 266.5 Km in Sindh and 734.5 Km in Balochistan. There are picnic spots, sightseeing places, sandy and sunny beaches, along the coast. Hingol National Park is situated on Makran coast in Balochistan covering 1650 Square Km area, which was declared as reserved park in 1988. This largest park is about 200 Km from Karachi which is full of attraction for tourists. The overall security conditions have much improved. Coastal high is operational. Gwadar, Ormara, Pasni and Turbot are reasonably developed cities. Almost all civic amenities and hospitals are now available. Continuous patrolling of coastal high way and sea especially close to the coast is being carried out by the concerned security agencies.  Holiday resorts can be developed at suitable locations which may have water sports such as scuba diving, surfing, waterskiing, canoeing, rowing, sailing etc. Beach spots exclusively for foreigners may also be established. A few resorts have been developed by private entrepreneurs at Gwadar. The Hawkes Bay and Sands spit areas belong to Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and government of Sindh which is given on lease for the construction of huts. The Manora highway is now operational. However, from tourism point of view this area is still not in a good shape. Holiday resorts can be built under Public Private Partnership to promote tourism.  Manora island is suitable to provide recreation facilities especially to residents of Karachi needs to be given more attention. It will ease the visitors pressure on Clifton beach which has been reasonably developed and is normally overcrowded.  Harbor cruises may be organized in Karachi and Port Qasim like in other ports of the world.   Coastal cruises on sea going ferries of the North Arabian may be arranged in calm season (Oct to May). Deep sea fishing as a sport may be arranged on suitable vessels. However, there is no jetty for boarding / landing for the tourists in Karachi port and PQA. To start with, KPT may consider giving on lease berth number 19 or any other suitable on West Wharf which could be converted for handling passenger ferries and vessels for harbor cruises. A tourist ferry service was started in OCT 2006 by a private entrepreneur which made its maiden voyage to Dubai in the first week of Nov (Dawn 25 Aug 2006). This ferry “Gulf Dream Cruise” sailed from a berth from West Wharf, was comparatively a large vessel having 540 cabins to accommodate 1250 passengers and about 400 crew equipped with almost all recreation facilities like restaurants, theaters, and indoor games. Since the feasibility study, planning and execution was half baked therefore, it only made maiden voyage. Major drawback is considered visa problems at Dubai which was not properly worked out with the concerned authorities by the operators. It is the considered opinion that, if the project had started with a relatively smaller ferry with a day trip along our coast and subsequently to overnight / few nights and then to other countries after completely settling the visa formalities, would have been successful. Passenger ferries and merchant vessels under innocent passage can do coasting in the territorial waters of other countries. Hajjis in the past have been proceedings by sea to holy land from west wharf, therefore, very less changes would be required to covert a jetty for handling of passenger ferries.  Moreover, modern ports should be able to handle all types of cargo including passenger ferries and boats for harbor cruises. KPT has already given on lease the land inside Jinnah bridge and the old native jetty bridge to a private entrepreneur where Port Grand is functioning to provide leisure activities. Ferry service and harbor cruises will certainly promote tourism, provide leisure activities which will generate economic activities and jobs which is need of the hour.  

There are a lot avenues for the promotion of Inland Waterway transport and tourism. Pakistan is blessed with rivers which are being regulated by Federal government under WAPDA Act and a number of canals, waterways and lakes under the control of respective provincial governments. Considering the benefits of inland waterway transport as the safest, cheapest and cleanest mode of transport, at the same time to promote tourism, the government of Punjab took the initiative to set up an Inland Water Transport Development Company (IWTDC), in 2014 and appointed renowned Maser Mariner, Naeem Sarfraz who is also the Chairman of FCCI, Standing Committee on Inland Water Transport as its CEO. The incumbent volunteered to work without salary and other benefits. The main task of the company was studying and developing an Inland Water Transport system along the Indus River corridor from Port Qasim to Nowshera. In phase-1, the survey of the Indus River channel was carried out with the support of Pakistan Navy with funding by a group of entrepreneurs as a private sector initiative to evaluate the feasibility of this channel from Attock to Daudkhel. To make this about 220 Km long channel navigable, widening, and marking for the vessels to ply, massive rock blasting has been carried out to remove obstacles (Website IWTDC). With the changes in the Federal and Punjab governments in 2018 this company was stopped to function along with few other and the assets were handed over to Punjab government. But the channel is functional from Attock to Daudkhel. Moreover landing / boarding jetties are also available.  This is being used by the tourists and transportation. However, at present there    
is no legislation, Rules and Regulations relating to craft operating in the
inland waterways exist. This includes construction, registration and inspection of
vessels; as well as their certification and of operators. Therefore, an Inland Waterway
 Authority (IWT) is required to be established which should be entrusted   to: i) Draft legislation ii) Prepare rules and regulations for construction and inspection of boats like for road vehicles. iii) Prepare rules for examination and certification of operators of vessels as for road vehicle drivers iv) Prepare rules of the road to regulate maritime transport on the inland waterways. v) The displacement of the vessels viz carrying capacities of passenger and cargo. In the absence of rules & regulations accidents are happening quite frequently and, in some cases, precious lives are lost. Investors are reluctant to venture. These will facilitate smooth operation of vessels in inland waterways. Therefore, establishment of Inland Waterway Authority (IWA) preferably under ministry of Maritime Affairs is considered vital. The Inland Waterway Development company which was stopped to function in 2018 may be revived to continue work because there are quite a few other patches of about 200Km long which can be developed for inland transportation and to promote tourism.

To summarise, a lot of avenues are available for the promotion of maritime and inland waterways tourism for strengthening of the economy. Few proposals for way forward are i) Governments of Sindh and Balochistan should ear mark water fronts which may be given on lease to entrepreneurs for building holiday resorts along the coast under Public Private Partnership. ii) Government of Sindh and KPT may actively consider giving water fronts on Hawks Bay and Sandspit on lease to entrepreneurs for building holiday resorts. iii) The KPT may lease a jetty preferably on West Wharf for the operation of tourist ferries and vessels for harbor cruises. iv) Manora beach needs to be more developed for tourists by the Sindh government. v) To promote inland waterway tourism and transportation, Inland Waterway Authority (IWA) may be established preferably under Ministry of Maritime Inland Waterway Development Company (IWTDC) may be revived. In short Pakistan has tremendous potential of maritime and inland waterways tourism and transportation. We need to explore all the avenues for its promotion to enhance economy and job creation which is a dire need of the country.   

Dr. Anjum Sarfraz
Dr. Anjum Sarfraz
the author is Cdre (retd) former Senior Research Fellow, at NIMA And SVI Islamabad