Religious tourism and other Tourism Segments:
There are many sectors of tourism in the world of tourism industry and so is the religious tourism. As a matter of fact the authorities and the planners of Pakistan are so far failed to take full benefits from the resources of this goldmine. Even the authorities do not know what religious tourism is and sometimes Gandhara civilization and the ruins of Gandhara region (today’s KPK) are considered as religious tourism that is a serious mistake for the planners whereas these museums and sites of KPK or something else and have nothing to do with Pakistan religious tourism that is simply Archaeology Tourism (a branch of cultural tourism). Can we claim someone visiting Badshahi Mosque and Faisal Mosque as Muslim Pilgrim, answer is no because the visitor came to see the architect and not the religion and the same is with Budhist sites of Pakistan. More and less the same scenario is with the Hindu Temples at Ketas Fort (Ketas Raj) that is now part of old historical buildings and open to general public. However, we are losing the major share of religious tourism whereas total turnout of religious tourism is 52 % out of total global tourism traffic. The following points make visible difference between religious tourism and other segments of tourism:
⦁ Spending power of a religious tourist/ pilgrim per head is 3 times more than ordinary tourists.
⦁ There are no museums with religious sites and shrines.
⦁ There are no entry fees to shrines and other religious sites.
⦁ Pilgrimage is not by choice that is why there is no visa fee for pilgrimage.
⦁ Religious sites are taken care by the organizers of respective religions or together (public-private).
⦁ There is daily practice on religious sites.
⦁ There are fixed festival (Melas) and other events to celebrate on regular basis irrespective law and order situations.
⦁ Religious tourism traffic is non-stop and free from any influence of political and geographical changing situations whereas other segments of tourism are directly affective.
The Major Segments of Religious Tourism:
There are two major religions in Pakistan that can attract the people across the globe, first is Sikhism and then Hinduism and to some extent the shrines of Sufi Saints (Sufism) but as a matter of fact there is only one religion that founded prospered in this part of Punjab and that is Sikhism or in other words I may claim that the only religion that Pakistan can claim as the indigenous religion of its land (Dharti). In the light of above, we can claim that the only major segment of religious tourism is Sikhism and Punjab is the hub for this segment. The Sikh heritage is spread all over Pakistan but as a matter of fact Punjab is the hub of the segment of Sikh Tourism. There are some other sites of Hinduism in the province of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and KPK. There are also two important sites of Sikh religion in KPK but the most Sikh heritage sites are in today’s Punjab of Pakistan.
Religious Tourism and existing Governance and Management Structure:
The existing governance and management structure for religious tourism market is highly bureaucratic, controlled and to some extent closed. There are many departments and agencies are in control and regulating the market as service providers and in result it leads us to nowhere. Currently if anyone applies visa for pilgrimage to Pakistan, they need a letter from Evacuee Trust to get visa and in result the pilgrims start seeking channels one after the other and when they reach to concerned staff they are told that we have letterhead papers finished – by then the holidays are over.
Religious Tourism and proposed Governance and Management Structure:
The existing governance and management structure should be replaced by setting up a sub-board or committee of volunteers (sector professionals) for religious tourism within National Tourism Board that will work as one-window operational force, whereas Evacuee Trust and other agencies have nothing to control it and should stay within its domain that is to maintain and look after the shrines rather involving itself in visa letters or promotion of own businesses directly or indirectly. It is recommended to work on the basis of Public-Private partnership and let private sector lead religious tourism segment with minimum involvement of various government departments and make an open procedure to attract more and more heritage tourists to Pakistan. So a powerful Religious Sub-Tourism Board within the NTB is advised to be constituted that will look after day to day yatra affairs.