Tourism has become the world’s fastest growing industries and a main source of employment opportunities and foreign exchange. It is seen as a catalyst for socio-cultural and economic growth. The flow of tourists and associated activities are constantly on the rise. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which advocates and promotes the importance of tourism as a driver of economy, the international tourist arrivals reached 1.4 billion in 2019 which significantly contributed in the economic growth and development of various countries.
The Gallup report 2019 reveals that tourism sector in Pakistan is reviving and tourist traffic has increased manifold. This reflects that the country is becoming a popular destination for tourists. The rich cultural heritage, historical and religious places, beautiful and scenic mountains, geographical diversity, globally renowned cuisine, extensive and beautiful coastal belt and many other natural treasures and wonders are great source of attraction for both domestic and international tourists.
The coastal belt of Balochistan is one of the most unexplored area, and its role in coastal tourism has not been fully recognized. In the past, the coastal belt of the country has never been given much priority in the development and management of tourism plans. However, with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative, the potential of coastal tourism has gained momentum for its immense value and socio-economic development.
The open sea, islands and beaches are an essential component for the development and success of coastal tourism sector. With a 1100 km coastline along the Arabian Sea and an uninhabited island of Astola, Balochistan province has one of the most beautiful and astounding beaches. Gadani, Miani hur, Kund malir, Ormara, Pishukan, Gwadar, Padizar and Jiwani are well known beaches along the coast. Astola island also known as Jezira Haft talar boasts an excellent viewpoint from where tourists can see marnelife. It is Pakistan’s largest island spanning over approximately an area of 6.7 kilometre square. The turquoise and crystal clear water is breathtaking. The seabed is visible around the debth of 15 feet. This island offers a suitable environment for internationally endangered green turtles. It could be a popular destination for camping and echo tourism. The residents along the coast are very friendly and their traditional way of life including fishing and farming culture is very appealing and a big draw for tourists.
Along the coastal highway is located Hingol National Park and Hinglaj Mata temple. The Hingol National Park with delightful landscape and variety of wildlife such as houbara, marsh crocodiles, ibexes and chinkaras is a perfect place for adventure lovers and wildlife photographers. It extends hundreds of miles along the coast. The cluster of mud volcanos known as Chandragupt complex is also located in the Hingol valley region close to the highway. These volcanos are regarded very sacred by Hindu community and a must stop for those who visit for pilgrimage to Hinglaj Mata Devi temple. In the Hindu tradition, Hinlaj Mata is regarded very powerful deity. It is one of the oldest temples in the world aand an important heritage site as well. Every year in the month of April, thousands of followers of Hindu religion come to this site for their annual pilgrimage. The princess of Hope is another tourist attraction that can be found along the highway not far from Kund Malir beach. It is a naturally fragmented sculpture having resemblance of a standing woman.
This exclusive and significantly special blend of resources provides very strong basis for coastal tourism. However, due to lack of facilities, the province has not been able to take economic benefits form the potential of coastal resources. Only a small segment of tourists visits coastal area but it is difficult to attract high end tourists. If the coastal areas and cultural sites are properly developed, the whole area could turn into a Coastal-Heritage and Adventure Tourism Corridor.
Realizing the importance of coastal resources and coastal tourism potential, the present Government of Balochistan is working on development of Master Planning of coastline. It will include a comprehensive strategy comprising of identification of sites for tourist resorts, development of beaches and heritage sites along the coast, construction of ports and harbours, oil refineries and creating enabling environment and business friendly opportunities for the investors. The main objective of the plan is to ensure sustainable use of coastal resources. The plan will address some critical issues most importantly controlling the loss of coastal habitats like mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass beds, estuaries and spots having recreational and scenic value as well as those with historical and cultural significance. Additionally, several important new development projects worth Rs.2250 million have been included in 2020-21 Public sector Development Programme for development of coastal areas. These include establishment of beach parks, rest areas, food chains, floating jetties and emergency response centers. The Government policy in promoting tourism is based on the realization that it is significantly an important driver for the socio economic development of the province, and with overall contribution in national economy. The mesmerizing coastline requires physical and hospitality infrastructure along with proper coastal zone management. Coastal zoning is very dynamic system. It is an integration of land, ocean and atmosphere. The purpose of integrated coastal management (ICM) plan is to ensure sustainable and appropriate use of natural resources, and effectively meet challenges such as deforestation and overfishing, encroachment of coastal lands, conversion to unplanned township development, exploitation of natural resources, Pollution, sea intrusion and climate change. It covers the whole aspect of ecosystem.
The coastal tourism has a tremendous potential and an important role to play in the overall socio-economic development. While the leading role of promotion and development of tourism sector is with the government, there is need to facilitate and create enabling and attractive environment for private sector to boost tourism.
The improvement in tourist services and visitor’s security arrangement is equally important to promote domestic and international tourism. Similarly, more focus is needed on Preservation, conservation and restoration of cultural heritage and natural resources. The community engagement is equally a vital constituent for the sustainable tourism development and uplift and well-being of the people. For this to achieve, collective and collaborative efforts are required for proper development and management of the coastal belt of the country as an important national resource..
The writer is a Chevening Alumnus and Secretary of Culture, Tourism & Archaeology Department, Government of Balochistan