As many as 1.72 million have visited Gilgit-Baltistan during last 11 months this year marking a huge growth as compared to 0.5 million tourists who visited during corresponding period last year. The tourists' visits brought Rs 300 million revenue to the local economy during the last couple of years. "The provincial government is expecting 2.5 million visitors in 2018," Mubashir Ayub, Assistant Director, GB Tourism Department, told Business Recorder on the sidelines of 3-day Pakistan Travel Mart which concluded at the Expo Centre on Sunday.
He said that if the tourism-related facilities are ensured with true spirit, the GB region has potential to generate local business worth Rs 1 billion, each year. In order to further attract tourists the GB government is taking practical steps through various initiatives such as holding regional and national level exhibitions including Dawn Lifestyles Winter Expos, Lok Virsa tourism and cultural festivities, Sarfaranga Desert Jeep Rally - the first-ever highest desert jeep rally, etc.
The financial provisions in next annual development programs for establishment of tourist facilitation centres at all entry points of GB, development of Rest Areas for tourists along KKH and provision of interest-free loan schemes to private sector for development of tourist accommodation facilities will further improve the tourism influx in Gilgit-Baltistan in the days to come.
To a query, he said, the federal government after devolution of Tourism Ministry due to the 18th amendment may delegate the powers of department of tourist service to Gilgit-Baltistan which has already been taken place in other provinces of Pakistan. "Devolution of said powers will benefit the local tour operators, hoteliers, travel agents and guides that will provide licensing facility at their doorsteps on one hand and will also be the source of revenue for government, on the other." he said.
Mubashir said that currently the lack of sufficient accommodation facilities, lack of electricity, less flights to GB and dilapidated condition of KKH are major issues while the environmental degradation is also matter of concern. "Presently, accommodation facilities in GB consist of approximately 140 hotels of various grades with an overall capacity of 2600 rooms, 30 Government Rest Houses and 3 Tourist Facilitation Centres at entry points," he said, adding that a small group of 'Boutique' hotels established through adaptive re-use of ancient Mir palaces, such as Shigar Palace near Skardu, Khaplu Palace in District Ghanche being operated under the umbrella of Serena chain of hotels, he added.
The GB has very much to offer in four seasons with highest plateaus including Deosai, cultural sites including Altit and Baltit forts in Hunza, Shigar Fort and Khaplu Fort in Baltistan, Waterfalls of Skardu region, ancient rock art carvings and inscriptions along KKH in District Diamer, lush green meadows and lakes in district Ghizer and Astore, Rakaposhi, Diran Peak and Hopper glacier in Nagar, rich culture, dry fruits and hospitality of Hunza that attract tourists to Gilgit-Baltistan.
On law and order, Mubashir Ayub said, the GB government through deployment of special patrolling forces along KKH and Babusar-Naran road named Karakoram Task Force has made the KKH safe for all tourists visiting GB by road. Additionally, the establishment of Rescue 1122 and its ambulance and car rescue services had improved tourist services being provided to visitors.
On the other side, communities have also been sensitized about the positive role of tourism in the area. In return, community volunteer groups have been developed by relevant communities which assist the tourists by apprising them of all precautionary measures while travelling on KKH and Babusar-Naran Road.
Gilgit-Baltistan is a living museum. It harbours rich diversity of flora and fauna including 230 species of birds, 54 species of mammals, 23 species of reptiles, 20 species of fish and 6 species of amphibians; mostly rare, endangered and endemic to Karakoram-Himalaya-Hindu Kush highlands. The government has established a network of 19 Protected Areas and 26 Community Managed Conservation Areas (CMCA) covering about 28 percent of the total area to protect and manage the precious wild resources of the area.
Gilgit-Baltistan is a geographically defined territory of ten districts in the extreme north of Pakistan. It borders internationally with Afghanistan in the west, China in north and India in the east. Nationally, its borders touch Azad Kashmir in the east, Chitral in the southwest and Indus Kohistan of KP province in the south. It encompasses about 72,696 Sq Km area, and has human population of 1.2 million people as per the census of 1998 with annual population growth rate of 2.56 percent. Inviting visitors, he said: "Gilgit-Baltistan is indeed a pinnacle of beauty; it's a land of hospitality, adventure, cultures, mountains, lakes, pastures and the land of beautiful people."
Copyright Business Recorder, 2017