It might have sounded absurd some 20 years ago that somebody finalised all details of his itinerary in just two, three hours, even without taking a step out of comforts of his home, but not today. You just need a functional cell-phone and an active bank account, with sufficient funds for planning any short or long trip. This is called digital-tourism, in today’s lingo.

Digital tourism is, in fact, a digital support provided to travellers before, during and after the travel activity. Facebook,Whatsapp,Twitter and Instagram are effective social media services that could be used for quick dissemination of information and projections of tourists friendly Pakistan.

Digital tourism services vary; these could provide recommendations to find an appropriate accommodation to help travellers plan the itinerary.

It could also be an app they can install on their cell-phones to serve as a mobile tour guide. It could also be the capability to explore all the holiday photos the traveller took once he or she reaches home.

Scientific advancements and technological inventions have virtually turned the globe into a town and digital-tourism is a modern form of exploration of hidden or amazing places through the use of the latest gadgets and information technology tools to help get discover the desired destinations, through ‘tourism sites or apps,’ with one window operation.

Digital Tourism or the travel technology — the application of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) that can help facilitate traveler tourists to get access to information about tourist destinations, hospitality and facilities, is vital to  boost the tourism industry of Pakistan globally.
 The rapid digitization across the globe is transforming almost everything on  the face of earth, offering e-services, from economy (physical to software-controlled) to government-citizens’ interaction, market-customer relations to tourism and healthcare to education to facilitate people at their doorsteps to make well informed decisions.

In the modern digital era, tourism has emerged as a source of foreign exchange and the fastest revenue generating industry, across the world. In fact, digitalization and technology hold the promise of progress and prosperity for almost every country, including Pakistan.According to a noted digital-tourism website, statista.com, the cumulative ratio of direct contribution from travel and tourism to global GDP, during 2019, amounted to around US$2,893 billion.

 Most of the European countries are generating a big chunk of their annual earnings and GDP through exposure of their scenic sites by using digital communication, which has changed the entire world. Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s data indicators show that the number of mobile phone users in Pakistan has crossed 165 million, while the number of 3G/4G users in Pakistan is over 70 million.
 
Pakistan Association of Tourism Operators President Maqsoodul Mulk told APP that Pakistan could achieve tremendous revenue goals in digital tourism if the government appoints professionals and experts to all formations of the industry and ensures good communications infrastructure.Mulk said that the government’s recent decision to end mandatory ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) was welcomed globally and the number of domestic and international tourists was increasing every year.

He said the start of online visas by the government for 175 countries and visa-on-arrival for 50 countries were good initiatives for promotion of digital-tourism in the country.Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation Managing Director Syed Intikhab Alam told APP that in north of Pakistan, proper projection of digital-ecotourism could bring home investment in billions, while the handicraft business and employment could also be increased in the area.

He said that the department had also chalked out a strategy for utilizing social networking sites to boost tourism activities. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Swat valley, Naran, Kaghan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and a lot more regions in the country are the most beautiful places, which can attract tourists from across the world and take the economy of Pakistan to new heights, he believes.  He believes that Pakistan will soon become the top tourist destination, as earlier it was not properly showcased through digital-tools. “It is high time for Pakistan to present its destinations before the world through digital means,” he suggested. 

Pakistan is bestowed with the diversity of historical, cultural, mountains, spiritual and archaeological heritage sites and scores of unending natural tourist resorts from Karachi to Chitral and Gwadar to . Khunjerab. The country has all the potential to revitalize its COVID-19 hit economy by using digital technologies to attract domestic and foreign tourists, adventurers, voyagers, mountaineers and archaeologists to explore the enthralling tourists sites of the world second lofty mountain of K2 (8,611meters), Nagaperbat (8,126m), Broadpeak (8,051) in north, deserts of Tharparkar and Cholistan in the South.   

Punjab Minister for Youth Affair, Sports, Archaeology and Tourism Rai Taimoor Khan, while talking to APP, said that the province has multi-billion dollar potential and is blessed with rich heritage.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government in the province has taken exemplary measures in embracing digital-tourism to project the country’s true tourism potential at national and international levels by adopting effective and open policies in the sector, he added. To project the historical destinations of the province, the services of noted v-loggers, bloggers across the province would be hired, so that the young generation could get awareness about their rich heritage and identity, the minister added.
The minister admits that the social media has a marvellous potential to promote the scenic beauty of the country, located in the northern areas of the country, adding that the incumbent government has given priority to digital media, which has been proved to be an effective tool so far. 

Talking to APP, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Senator Prof. Dr. Mehr Taj Roghani said that promotion of digital tourism was possible through public-private-partnership. Sharing her experiences of making a digital tour to Europe, she said, “In late 70s, when I wanted to visit Europe, all arrangements were made for me online from Pakistan to the world renowned tourist destinations. The same online arrangements could also be made for foreign tourists visiting Pakistan.”

  Roghani said  it was necessary to work on digital tourism to attract  a  maximum number of foreign tourists to local attractions, tourist spots, and historical archeological sites.”Today is the era of digital tourism. Technological advancements were transforming the travel and hospitality industry in developing countries like Pakistan where negative perceptions and opinions could be changed through effective and responsible digital media strategies,” Manzoorul Haq, Foreign Ambassador of Pakistan told APP.
 In developed countries, he said the culture of publicity of tourism destinations through brochures, booklets and pamphlets has been replaced by digital tourism and Pakistan could fully exploit its rich tourism potential by using digital platforms, social media, global positioning system (GPS), internet, mobiles apps and artificial intelligence in the wake of mushroom growth of IT sector.

He said Chitral could have attracted hundreds of thousands of adventurers, mountaineers, music and nature lovers from foreign countries this year after the successful visit of Royal Couple and award-winning UK-based travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveler listed Pakistan as the top holiday and adventure travels site among 20 holiday destinations across the world for 2020, had COVID-19 not struck in March last.
The investors of the travel and hospitality industry,particularly those on CPEC routes, a major component of China ‘s One Belt and Road Initiative (OBRI), would largely benefit from digital tourism in the near future, he maintained. Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) General Manager (Operations) Asim Raza told APP that in Pakistan, digital-tourism has a tremendous potential to significantly contribute to the national economy, which has not only been identified by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government but also endorsed by the international experts at various forums.Dr Muhammad Naeem, associate professor Economics Department, University of Swabi said the tourism and travel industry has been at forefront of digital innovation that transformed tourism sector in world.
He said the tourism economy represents five percent of world GDP, 30% of commercial exports and contributed 6-7 percent of total employment besides USD 1 trillion to the economic value of the tourism sector in a year.    

Dr Naeem referred to World Economic Forum’s Digital Transformation Initiative (DTI) report declaring that from 2016 to 2025, digitalisation in aviation, travel and tourism is expected to create up to US$305 billion value for these industries through increased profitability, migrate US$100 billion revenue from traditional players to new competitors, and generate US$700 billion economic benefits for international customers.He said Pakistan has a huge market for tourism and a substantial foreign exchange could be generated by promoting digital tourism to showcase Pakistan’s hidden treasures in a cost-efficient and attractive way before the world.Junaid Khan, Managing Director KP Tourism Corporation (TCKP) told APP that a tourism digital strategy has been introduced to harness potential of digital media to bolster tourismMD TCKP said a gigantic scheme for promotion of digital tourism had been included in budget 2020-21 under which all key tourists sites in the province would be digitalized and its information would be shared on TCKP app and website 24/7.

Under the project, he said data of tourist sites, mountains spots, lakes, walking tracks, cultural heritage and archeological sites would be collected and categorized in terms of facilities and its documentaries would be shared on TCKP aap, website, social media pages and social networking sites.
He said about Rs10 million were allocated for digitalization of projects to be completed in 10 months.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ‘App Desk’, Rawalpindi based software-house; M.Tanveer Khan while talking to the agency said that a a government backed centralized mechanism of ‘one-stop-shop’ or ‘one-window-operation’ is needed for tourists visiting Pakistan”. The details and references of all existing local websites should be uploaded on it for authenticating the integrity and realism of the data, he added.

The CEO said that this would make the tourists able to get the required information on a single search. It would also help the government to maintain a record of comprehensive data for business purposes which was also important for policy and decision making as data was considered ‘new currency’, he added. 

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