The business community has urged the government to promote the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) working in the tourism sector of Pakistan particularly the ones that are operating in the northern areas of the country.

“SMEs from various sub sectors in the tourism industry need to be encouraged,” said Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (Smeda) CEO Hashim Raza in comments to The Express Tribune on Friday. “Inclusion of efficient and high performing SMEs in the tourism segment will not only help develop the entire sector and promote employment opportunities but also uplift mountaineering and trekking tourism in Pakistan.”

Echoing his views, Union of Small and Medium Enterprises (UNISAME) President Zulfikar Thaver called upon the government to promote small scale tourist facilitating companies by announcing subsidised financial schemes and tax holidays for them.

He further appreciated the role played by the federal government in supporting tourism industry in the northern areas. The government also needs to study the coastline in Sindh and Balochistan and assist SMEs in establishing guesthouses, cafes, restaurants and lodges in these areas as well as local deserts to boost the number of local and foreign visitors, he said.

Thaver demanded relocating a few cottage industries in these areas so that tourists are able to buy traditional cultural items such as caps, scarves, dresses and footwear.

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He recommend the federal and provincial governments to encourage, motivate, promote and facilitate the SME sector to enable it to avail the best opportunities as cities are getting saturated and crowded.

“Tourism and hospitality entrepreneurship has proved to be extremely important for employment and economic growth in developing and industrialised countries,” said Pakistan Businesses Forum (PBF) Vice President Ahmad Jawad. “The SME sector can play a pivotal role in strengthening tourism by setting up new infrastructure in different parts of the country.”

In this regard, the provincial government should announce tax holiday of up to three years for SMEs located in the northern areas in a bid to encourage investment in the north. Rotary Club of Karachi Centennial former president Atiqua Vally said that Hunza Valley produces rich apricots, nuts and cherries that are either used locally or exported to China.

“Farmers are unable to sell these edible items in major cities of Pakistan due to costly transportation,” she said.

Vally, who travels frequently, added that mushrooms are produced in Thar during the rainy season, however, transportation issues obstruct them from reaching Karachi, where they can be sold for higher revenue.

“On Eidul Azha this year, 700,000 vehicles reached Hunza where just 4,000 rooms are available for guests,” she said. “If each vehicle contained just two people, this takes the total amount of visitors to 1.4 million.”

Local people should be incentivised to open new businesses as they can make sustainable income from them, Vally said.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2021.

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