Can Travel Technology Transform Pakistan’s Tourism Industry?
Travel tech has played a massive role in revolutionizing Pakistan’s tourism industry, really putting Pakistan on the map!
We have come a long way from manual paper-based bookings to arranging entire trips at a click of a button. The tourism industry has revolutionized rapidly over the past decade as the interest in Pakistani travel has grown locally and internationally.
Our panelists of tourism & hospitality experts discussed the digital evolution of travel in Pakistan at +92Disrupt: ISL Edition. The panel titled ‘Don’t Miss Your Stop: Using Tech in Tourism’ discussed the evolution of Pakistan’s tourism industry and touched upon the need to incorporate sustainable tourism practices as we move forward.
The panel consisted of Faizan Aslam, Khurram Kidwai, Aneeqa Ali, and Danyaal Balkhi, and was moderated by Mashhood Rastgar. Mashhood prefaced the conversation by clarifying that the issues in Pakistan’s tourism industry are not just supplier problems but also a consumer problem.
Therefore, people on both ends need to have a better understanding of what the use case is for tourism technology.
Why Going Digital is the Way Forward for Pakistan’s Tourism Industry
Our panelists of hospitality experts all agreed that in terms of the evolution of hotel supply, teaching the industry what the best practices are is a challenging process.
However, there is a healthy amount of faith that the transition will happen over time once suppliers see added value in customers coming through online channels.
According to Danyaal Balkhi formerly of Roomph & Ascendant, there has been growth in terms of more customers and suppliers shifting to digital platforms, wherein 12 months ago, the amount of business done via their platforms was under 20%; in contrast, now it has risen to 35%.
As the industry changes more and more people will realize that digital streams are where the bulk of their bookings are coming through and the challenge will disappear.
So how exactly will that happen?
It’s All About Standards!
The surge in popularity of booking platforms and online portals stems from the need to invent a product that delivers a consistent standard and is easy to use.
Convenience also plays a huge role; for instance, booking platforms make it convenient for travelers to book trips by providing activities, transport, and accommodation on one singular platform.
Additionally, digital platforms also streamline the booking process, making it easy to manage reservations and payments.
Putting Small Pakistani Businesses on the Tourism Map
Booking platforms are a great way to boost small and independent businesses, particularly in the North. This allows suppliers in often remote areas to reach a wide audience of potential customers through greater visibility. Thus, simulating Pakistan’s tourism economy. According to Aneeqa Ali, Founder and CEO of The Mad Hatters:
“In the Northern areas of Pakistan, tourism and agriculture comprise of 80% of people’s livelihoods.”
Online platforms and greater connectivity give suppliers the ability to measure on system occupancy rates of cities. This makes managing bulk bookings easier and more efficient, based on capacity.
Digital booking platforms also provide a central system for managing reservations, automating tasks, offering customization options, and providing group management tools.
What are the Challenges Plaguing Tourism Startups in Pakistan?
Pakistan’s tourism industry is promising but we still have a long way to go. The main roadblocks are issues of transparency as well as limited access to finance.
These challenges can make it difficult for tourism startups in Pakistan to succeed and grow and may require innovative solutions and support from the government and other stakeholders to overcome.
1. Mass Adoption & Transparency
It is necessary to build a tool that allows penetration via both the suppliers and customers, giving each of them the right kind of benefits. An articulation of why such a product is needed and its usage is critical. Education, as mentioned before, is needed on this front to help both parties understand that booking gateways are necessities that can make the business process more efficient and productive.
Technology can also misfire if not used correctly and currently there is a lack of trust from the customer’s side. Mis-selling to consumers is unfortunately common in Pakistan, making it one of the few tourist destinations where platforms such as Booking.com do not provide pre-payment.
Hence, experiences need to be curated where the customer is certain they are receiving the right products. Ensuring transparency on digital platforms makes way for a better relationship between customers and businesses.
2. The Instability of Pakistan’s Tourism Industry
“There are two phases of tourism in Pakistan; before 9/11 and after 9/11. Until a few years ago this was always considered a side industry.” – Aneeqa Ali
There is a lack of training, resources, and education in the tourism sector in Pakistan that limits our potential. One such example of this is the lack of training for otherwise illustrious options, one example being that of climbing.
Despite boasting some of the highest peaks in the world, after Nepal, and being dubbed an adventure tourist destination, we sorely lack training for expeditions.
A lack of trained local high-altitude climbers results in a bulk of business coming from International tourists being spent on outsourcing resources. For example, sherpas from Nepal.
Therefore, spending more resources on training locals can spell numerous positive outcomes for Pakistan’s tourism economy.
3. The Need for Digital Payment Infrastructures
A major hindrance for Pakistani tourism startups is the lack of international payment mechanisms and gateways. While the Fintech revolution gives customers a few more options to make local payments digitally, there still remain several challenges.
As Khurram Kidwai of Lokal put it, evolution takes time.
Customers can be hesitant to make online transactions and pre-payments to secure bookings as they are unsure of what they might end up with. To get the consumer on board, trust needs to be built in from the
Refunds are also a challenge for booking platforms, affecting customer service directly. For online transactions, the processing time via digital payment gateways regarding refunds is slow. For international payments the depreciation of the rupee means tourism tech startups often have to pay out of their own pockets when processing refunds.
What can the Pakistani Tourism Industry Learn from Foreign Markets?
Everyone’s heard of the Pakistani landscape in the North being constantly compared to the mountains and scenic settings in Switzerland. While foreign comparison sometimes falters, it can be good to look outwards for a better perspective on the local situation.
When looking at foreign competition, both at a regional and global level, there is a lot that the Pakistani industry can implement. Improving tourism is essential to benefit consumers, suppliers, and the local communities, thereby also improving the international perception of tourism in Pakistan.
Sustainable Tourism Practices
Mass tourism is a hindrance when it comes to responsible tourist practices which are essential to maintain a certain level of respect and standards.
Influxes of local tourists in areas like Murree can lead to extremely unfortunate instances due to overcrowding. Moreover, there is again the issue of educating the local population on sustainable and responsible tourist practices.
This mindset change – beginning at even a basic level such as for littering – needs to be implemented at both a personal and policy level.
Sustainable tourism is highly beneficial in several ways, these include:
- Minimizing the negative impacts of tourism on the natural environment and landscape.
- Protecting and preserving cultural heritage and traditions, ensuring respect and harmony with the local community.
- Ensuring that tourism development is socially and economically beneficial to local communities
“There’s no washrooms when you’re driving for six hours, it’s absurd!” – Danyaal Balkhi
Inadequate transportation, poor road conditions and limited infrastructure provide challenges for Pakistan’s tourism industry.
Little things such as improving the standards of pitstops and facilities for tourists, or providing an efficient garbage disposal system can go a long way. Having an authority that focuses on these factors with all players pitching at both a government and ecosystem level can help improve Pakistan as a destination for travel and tourism.
Security in Pakistan can be a massive concern, particularly for international travelers. Having said that, collaboration is required in this process rather than placing the onus on a singular institution.
Improving the security infrastructure and overall comfort-level by providing key services to tourists is the way forward. This can really help Pakistan’s landscape get the international recognition it deserves.
Furthermore, marketing is another way to target the misconceptions the international arena has regarding security issues in Pakistan.
“You’ve had great examples with Malaysia Truly Asia, Incredible India – stuff like that. All of us can do this together and truly market Pakistan as a place that is second to none…from a natural landscape point of view this is as good as it gets!” – Khurram Kidwai
So there you have it, tourism is definitely the way forward for Pakistan there’s no doubt about it. However, it requires collaboration to solve issues at both a local and international level, requiring individuals to adopt mindset changes.
The government and private institutions need to step up to play a role in improving Pakistan’s tourism industry. This can reap incredible socio-economic benefits, contributing to overall development with innovations in travel tech blazing the way forward.