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WTO underscores links between tourism and peace in South Asia

South Asia is taking off with unprecedented growth in tourism…

South Asia is taking off with unprecedented growth in tourism. In South Asia, it is the season for tourism, it is the season for peace and above all, it is the season for development, said Dr. Dawid De Villiers, WTO Deputy Secretary-General, who reflected the conclusions of the three-day annual gathering at Lahore, the city of culture of Pakistan.

During the 46th meeting of the WTO Commission for South Asia and a subsequent international conference on sustainable tourism, DeVilliers highly praised the countries in the region for their achievements made in the tourism industry. The international conference on sustainable tourism with particular reference to poverty alleviation was organized under the joint auspices of WTO and the National Foundation for Progress of Pakistan in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism of the country.

Current circumstances in South Asia are very conducive to the development of tourism in the region. Peace initiatives are materializing between India and Pakistan with bus services already started between Lahore and Delhi and between the two sides of the Kashmir area. It has greatly facilitated family visits and travel for special purposes such as sport-related activities. Travel is the language of peace. Peace is the basis of tourism and tourism also helps build peace, De Villiers stated in his inaugural speech at the opening of the meetings. For the first time in the recent history of WTO meetings, an Afghan delegation led by the Minister of Information and Culture, Dr. Sayed Makhdoom Raheem was present at the three-day gathering.

In 2004, international arrivals reached around eight million with an annual growth rate of as high as 20 per cent. The region achieved an impressive annual average of 6.5 per cent in tourist arrivals between 1990 and 2004, though still lower than the rate of growth of North-East Asia (8.

5 per cent).

Delegates, while deliberating on a variety of issues in tourism, felt that the region is now in a stage of general economic health. India is moving fast in the right direction in terms of government support to tourism, infrastructure improvements and successful marketing and promotion initiatives. Having made its success in the Incredible India campaign, the destination has embarked upon another exciting promotional scheme, presenting India as a land of soul and mind and enticing visitors with the idea of rejuvenation, recharging and the betterment of human beings.

Pakistan, for the first time in history, has created a separate ministry of tourism, which has sent a strong and clear signal that the Government is paying more attention to the tourism industry. Under the dynamic leadership of the vice president of the country, Iran tourism made dramatic advances such as visa facilitation and a sharp increase of international visits to the country. The delegates spoke highly of the success stories of Maldives and Sri Lanka in spite of the difficulties faced by them in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster.

The WTO meetings concluded on 13 April 2005. Participants returned with fond memories of the hospitality of the people of Pakistan and the first-class monuments such as the Lahore Fort. The delegates are extremely confident that tourism in South Asia is now in a historical moment and will indeed take off this time. The prospects are bright for tourism and countries need to work further on the challenges faced to the industry such as more liberalization of air transportation, visa facilitation, positive image building, overall tourism policy design and diversification of tourism markets and products.

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