Foreign travel bloggers don't paint an honest picture of Pakistan, say locals and tourists

Foreign travel bloggers don't paint an honest picture of Pakistan, say locals and tourists

All this 'Everything is wonderful in Pakistan' is just irresponsible, reveals British traveller June
25 Apr, 2019

They are young, Western, and full of praise for Pakistan: Travel influencers have moved in on the “land of the pure”, but critics warn their rose-tinted filters are irresponsible and sell an inaccurate picture of the country.

As security improves, Prime Minister Imran Khan is keen to promote the nation's tourism potential, with the government claiming it has eased visa restrictions for many foreign visitors.

The push has resulted in an influx of foreign travel bloggers extolling the virtues of its mountains and beaches, as well as its rich heritage and history, from ancient Indus civilisations to Buddhist shrines and Islamic monuments.

“Pakistan, it was the trip of a lifetime,” food and travel YouTuber Mark Wiens told his four million subscribers.

Polish blogger Eva zu Beck informed her followers it could “become the number one tourist destination in the world”, while Canadian social media influencer Rosie Gabrielle said she wanted her stories to “tell the truth” about the country.

“People believe them,” says Pakistan Travel Mart CEO Ali Hamdani, who helped set up Mark Wiens' trip, adding that bloggers' impressions are regarded as “authentic”.

But there are concerns influencer content does not reflect the major challenges, from infrastructure to extremism, that Pakistan is facing as it embraces modern tourism.

Zu Beck, whose clip was even shared by officials, cites government commerce initiative Emerging Pakistan, as well as Pakistan International Airlines as partners she's worked with, while Wiens credits tourism expo Pakistan Travel Mart for “making the amazing trip happen”.

Gabrielle says her 3,500 kilometre motorcycle trip across the nation was facilitated by a Pakistani association in Oman.

Alternative vision of Pakistan

At the Pakistan Tourism Summit last month, foreign travel bloggers were given preference
At the Pakistan Tourism Summit last month, foreign travel bloggers were given preference

As security concerns are easing in Pakistan, authorities and businesses are keen to shake the perception it is a hostile and dangerous place.

They are enthusiastic that so-called social media “influencer” advertising, which generally provides glossy snapshots rather than in-depth investigation, can present an alternative vision of Pakistan to a new generation of young and adventurous travellers.

“People believe them,” says Pakistan Travel Mart CEO Ali Hamdani, who helped set up Wiens trip, adding that bloggers' impressions are regarded as “authentic”.

Yet Pakistanis and seasoned foreign travellers warn such posts on social media do not paint a full and honest picture of Pakistan.

“It kinds of makes me angry to have white people represent us. We are not completely done with our post-colonial hangover,” saus Zara Zaman, an attendee at a recent tourism summit where foreign bloggers overshadowed local ones.

Tourism infrastructure is severely underdeveloped, there are opaque government restrictions on places foreigners can visit, and travellers are often harassed -- whether by men bothering women in a patriarchal society; or suspicious intelligence officials detaining curious sight-seers or insisting on security escorts.

“All this 'Everything is wonderful in Pakistan' is just irresponsible,” reveals June, an indignant 51-year-old Briton who declined to give her last name, she had been harassed by a police officer during a visit to the northwestern Swat valley.

Influencers are shielded from many issues that ordinary visitors face, adds Zara Zaman, an attendee at a recent tourism summit in Islamabad.

“All of these travellers are also travelling with crews and are protected by more powerful people,” she argues.

Hamdani, for example, acted as a driver for both Wiens and another influencer, Trevor James, during their visits, smoothing out any issues.

Zu Beck and Gabrielle, were able to visit the southwestern province of Balochistan -- famed for its spectacular scenery, but also for violent insurgencies, which means few foreigners are able to visit without the blessing of intelligence agencies.

'Post-colonial hangover'

American blogger Alex Reynolds has criticised her fellow influencers' rose-tinted coverage of Pakistan
American blogger Alex Reynolds has criticised her fellow influencers' rose-tinted coverage of Pakistan

What influencers publish “doesn't represent the real experience,” warns Alexandra Reynolds, an American blogger on her fifth trip to Pakistan, adding that there is a risk that less experienced travellers will be misled by such content and potentially end up in trouble.

“In a time when Pakistan's international reputation is so fragile, it is not something that should be risked,” the 27-year-old explains, revealing that she too experienced harassment from security forces during a previous trip.

Another tourist Sebastiaan, 30, says he was detained for 14 hours and questioned by suspicious government agents in the southern city of Mithi last September.

There is also frustration from Pakistanis that Western bloggers have been feted by authorities, while locals with better cultural understanding -- especially of sensitive issues such as gender or blasphemy -- are sidelined.

Also read: The Pakistan Tourism Summit features international travel bloggers, but where are the local influencers?

“It kinds of makes me angry to have white people represent us. We are not completely done with our post-colonial hangover,” says Zaman.

At the tourism summit a group of the Western bloggers were widely photographed meeting Imran Khan, with no local travel influencers in sight, prompting a backlash on social media.

Despite concerns, the bloggers remain enthusiastic.

Zu Beck, 27, has gained a huge following in Pakistan, where a local phone company has sponsored some of her videos.

She insists: “My job is not to love Pakistan. My job is to make content. But I love Pakistan.“


NewBorn Apr 25, 2019 12:55pm
Truth is coming out now.
Jackal Apr 25, 2019 01:02pm
Obviously, governments have to project a positively skewed picture of the reality to promote tourism. Do not understand how slightly negative experiences of a few travelers needs to be projected. That happens in virtually every country throughout the world.
Welcome Apr 25, 2019 01:07pm
Alex episode was a poison pill. It did an irrefutable damage to the very purpose of this summit. Corruption to intimidation to security to uncertainty, she blown the whistle with credibility. She may not get a tourist visa again to the the country. Take her messages in a positive way. First , it’s valuable feedback for Pakistan to address what foreign tourists are expecting. Second, very useful insights for foreign tourists on what to expect in Pakistan.
Shahryar Shirazi Apr 25, 2019 01:31pm
India and Pakistan are two huge markets for Youtube Channel subscriptions. A lot of praise is coming for that reason.
Chinpaksaddique Apr 25, 2019 01:58pm
These people will say anything to get followers. We know what we have become no one needs to tells us. We won’t fall for these false praises
Sohail Apr 25, 2019 02:17pm
The negative image is also too much exaggerated... So at this moment in time... We probably need positive feedback more than critical opinions
Marcus Apr 25, 2019 02:19pm
Pakistan still not a safe country. Until there is peace in Afghanistan tourism shunt be encouraged. Pakistan needs to build a safe infrastructure first as one slip up could kill the tourism industry.
Marcus Apr 25, 2019 02:20pm
Hate to say it but Irresponsible of ik as he is risking the life’s of innocent tourist. Pakistan is a long way from being safe although it’s heading in right direction.
Laila Apr 25, 2019 02:34pm
Can we JUST BE HONEST? Pakistan in its present climate and cultural setting is not safe for women especially to travel and blog about. But I hope in future it will be. There is great potentiale but kindly dont put peoples lives at risk by promiting an image which is clearly....optimistic and not realistic. Foreigners and locals are treated differently...
ahmad Apr 25, 2019 02:49pm
The extremism you mentioned is something that the West already knows about Pakistan in fact it is the only thing that they know Pakistan for but the point of promoting tourism is to show that there is another side of Pakistan as well.
ahmad Apr 25, 2019 02:56pm
@Shahryar Shirazi - please leave India out of this.
Aysha Apr 25, 2019 03:53pm
Listened to the talk of “ lost with purpose” poor girl was complaining about “ no go “ areas for foreigners in pakistan, felt sorry for her ignorance as there are Pakistanis who are not allowed to enter in certain areas and she is foreigner.
Faisal Apr 25, 2019 04:19pm
You pay them enough and they will love Somalia.
FASEEH Apr 25, 2019 04:36pm
Well Rosie has categorically denied the claims that her trip is funded or even supported by anyone just now in her insta story. Also she showed 'grief' on this article.
Vijay Kumar Apr 25, 2019 05:03pm
Look within yourself. Don't blame others.
Ali Apr 25, 2019 05:38pm
There could be challenges and critics for any country in the world, what we need to look at Pakistan is the spectacular mountainous beauty, unmatched in the world. There is rich history and culture going back to civilisation 5000 years. The people of Pakistan are known for their genuine warmth and hospitality. What is new is the government opening tourism on larger scale and making visas easy for tourists. That should be welcomed by all.
Timur Apr 25, 2019 05:48pm
The writer says tourists coming to Pakistan have increased whereas Pakistan tourism dept report says it has decreased. Whom to believe? Anyway tourists arrival in Pakistan have never been attravtive, compared to even tazakistan or even kirgistan. Pakistan government need to do much more to attract tourists from abroad as well as local ones. Local population too need to be sensitised about different cultures and respect them.
Peace Now Apr 25, 2019 06:17pm
@Shahryar Shirazi Right on target
Ehsan Apr 25, 2019 06:18pm
Growing pains
topbrass Apr 25, 2019 06:46pm
@NewBorn , truth was out all the time. It is called marketing. Marketing is not always committed to authenticity. Don't blame bloggers for earning their livelihoods
Ga Apr 25, 2019 07:04pm
But the opposite perception is also not true , that you will be kidnapped or attacked for being a foreigner. That is how the Western media has portrayed Pak for decades and you need white foreigners to dispel this impression. Name one country where brown complexion trumps white complexion.
SAJJAD KHAN Apr 25, 2019 07:06pm
we give disproportionate coverage to negative things via media and social media compare to the positive things. I personally believe if we all stop doing that, the attitude and mindset of people would change. When social media was not prevalent we had more confidence and had more happiness. People would go out and explore, they didn't have so many fears haunting them all the time. I grew up as a teenager in Pakistan and never gave a second thought before going anywhere and doing anything, more carefree. I see my kids now and I cannot fathom why my kids cannot have that sense of freedom, we as parents become very protective. I think it has become a self-feeding cycle of fear.
Ga Apr 25, 2019 07:06pm
@Faisal , Somalians say that Pakistan is war torn and dangerous. Even Syrians didnt want refuge in Pak. You carry the same stereotypes about others as they carry about you.
Ahsan Ansari Apr 25, 2019 07:11pm
@NewBorn Indians dont have courage to face the truth.
thinking Apr 25, 2019 07:17pm
What is wrong if negatives are also mentioned by travel bloggers? Its better to publish so that tourists visiting will be ready with information. In India, even if we are travelling to neighboring state, we gather enough info about hotels, temperature, place of visit, timings, people, shops. So everyone posts positive and negative opinions. This is of great help to any traveler.
Suhail Apr 25, 2019 07:21pm
There are two ways of looking at the matter. Imho, if we market Pakistan as a 'touristic' country like western Europe, UAE, Philippines, Malaysia, etc. then of course foreign travel bloggers are not painting an honest picture of Pakistan. However, if we market Pakistan as an off the beaten path traveler's destination then the picture being painted could be corrected with least financial requirements. We should understand the difference between a tourist and a traveler. A tourist visits well known, easy to visit touristic spots with all the amenities available nearby. A traveler, by contrast, takes the road less traveled to visit places that offer 'wildness' or pristine beauty with least human interference.
Ahmed A Khan Apr 25, 2019 07:25pm
@Sohail What Alex did in her video was constructive criticism , pointing out the problems foreigners face. The overwhelming reaction from Pakistanis was negative! We need to face issues and then authorities need to take action and resolve these issues.
neo Apr 25, 2019 07:55pm
@Jackal .. You are right. But if Pakistan government sincere about tourism then they will have to deal with this bitter reality also. Promote all you want using white people but then make some effort to make changes on the ground also (travel restriction, visa issue, security, harassment etc)
ahmed Apr 25, 2019 08:33pm
PK, respectb the locals with knowhow to promote tourism with security and safety. If you can't do that, WAIT because PK's name is on the line. Go slow but be sure and educated on tourism.
Hasan Apr 25, 2019 08:58pm
Complete non issue. Pakistan has never been a tourist focused country neither have we ever bothered to preserve our heritage like others have. Hence it will take a lot of effort to portray Pakistan as a tourist friendly country.
Right Voice Apr 25, 2019 09:38pm
Wiens and his ilk will do anything for free food. Pakistanis offer free food and gifts to everyone at their own cost and these goras are ready to exploit poor honest people.
AsIf jamil Apr 25, 2019 10:13pm
I think it is a very balanced report. I do think that the foreign bloggers go overboard in their praise of the country. We must first make sure that visas are easily available, travel within the country is comfortable and safe, there are plenty of 3 and 4 Star hotels which compare in cleanliness and service to western standards, hygienic and healthy food is sold in restaurants, our public is educated to treat foreigners, especially females, with respect and dignity, and educate Pakistanis to show the best face of the country to foreign tourists. Put all these things in place first, then invite foreign tourists. Otherwise, Ian Botham’s comments that ‘Pakistan is a good country to send your mother in law to’ will become a reality.
Negotiator Apr 25, 2019 10:32pm
Exposing Pakistan as a tourist industry is a government job and to create such safe and pro tourism atmosphare is also the government responsibility. I have seen peoplein Pakistan oggling at female tourist cleavages which literaly taken as harrassment in west where we are selling the tourism. People of Targeted areas for tourism need education about dealing with foriegners. In such areas, seminars must be arranged to create awareness inb local population about the positive economic impact of foriegn visitors, how tp deal with them and the international consequences of a mishap happening with these foriegn tourists. Moreover, small percentage of criminal offences happen every where, India is a huge tourism industry and on average 10 to 15 tourists arekilled in crimes like rape, dacoities and theft attempts. The more local people will come across the foriegners, the more routine it will become. The foriegn tourists needed to be educated about dress codes and area cultural sensitivities .
RACHEL IQBAL Apr 25, 2019 10:55pm
Pakistan is not safe for tourists unless they are escorted by police or very influential people.
Just Saying Apr 26, 2019 12:28am
The moral of the story is that don't trust any online review until you know the full background. Were the reviewers paid for their endorsement, was the product given for free in the expectation of a positive endorsement. In the online world, it is easy to fake, so buyer beware. Have more faith in official bulletins and travel advisories for example, from the US Department of State than from a blogger you don't know personally.
Kant Apr 26, 2019 02:02am
@Sohail No, U need the truth, if you want improvement.
Latkabanta Apr 26, 2019 05:33am
@Faisal why do Pakistan liberals have bigoted views on African nations.
Wadan Apr 26, 2019 05:45am
To be honest, whites always represents Pakistan then locals as of Media.... Local media should grow up to promote and discover the pure land as we have in Pakistan. Being part of Northern Area, I am still in progress to go and see the furnishing floor of beautiful areas. One thing must be kept in mind, travellers are being promoted by the country of their nationality while in Pakistan, you have to go byself. If Government wants to promote tourism, true answer must be the key to success in terms of locals exploration by due promoting locals to go ahead. Sponser your nationals to hike the peaks and viral with media coverage, then will get some positive stuff comes out.
Saad Razzaq Apr 26, 2019 06:43am
True to a certain extent. The government of Pakistan is keen to bring tourism to the country which requires substantial efforts in terms of infrastructure improvement and sensitizing the local to respect other culture and other people which essentially means that the government needs to invest heavily in the education. Just showing a rosy picture is not sustainable
Rebirth Apr 26, 2019 08:20am
They could've raised these issues instead of fake news about harassment of all things. Yes, Pakistan isn't a decent tourist destination and people should exercise caution before travelling. But maligning Pakistan unnecessarily to make it look worse than the country actually is, was uncalled for. Here's an analogy: if someone thought a restaurant was crowded or the food wasn't nice, that's how they would review it. Their intention would be to prevent others from having to go through the same experience. They wouldn't concoct a story about female customers being harassed by the waiters to achieve the same purpose. If you faced X problem, don't say your problem was Y only because you don't want people to face the former like you did. Problem Y could have different connotations than problem X. For example, there's a world of a difference between "the tourism industry is underdeveloped" and "their men chase average looking women for 2 hours between cities".
Stargazer Apr 26, 2019 08:38am
Are brilliant white Turbans, beautiful Saris, immaculate villages, colourful walls shown as Indian Villages in Bollywood movies not exxageration either. Anyone who has ever visited India would know its far far from reality, if anything its a land full of poverty, extremely unsafe for women, but let them be over optimistic about their country. And let us live our lives too.
Prasad Apr 26, 2019 08:46am
I don’t see the point of this article. Would-be travelers to Pakistan are bound to take sensible precautions and do some careful advance planning. These bloggers show what they liked about the country, but everyone understands that it may be not be the whole picture. But you have to have a reason to go there, and that’s all the bloggers are providing.
Azeem Apr 26, 2019 08:51am
I think we are over reacting to this whole episode of foreigners coming to Pakistan (like they do in rest of countries) and promoting positive image of our country. People like Mark &Trevor already had lot of subscribers from all over the world they did not become famous here. As the foreign western media does not represent Pakistan well so it was good move from govt to invite them to summit. Now the problem lies in our mindset as WE think of them as someone who approve us. Why don't we think that these people are helping us represent Pakistan to the world in a way western media does not show ? The tourism summit had bigger objectives with respect to GOP. And i think these were the right people available to showcase their version and experience of Pakistan. If we had given chance to our locals (they are doing great job btw) i don't think they have such diverse fan following around the world to get the message through. I agree that not everything is well but we are on right track
Truthsurge Apr 26, 2019 09:16am
@SAJJAD KHAN I grew up in India and I completely mirror the viewpoint you expressed so well. We need to try and break this cycle one small step at a time.
S Apr 26, 2019 09:17am
I am a Pakistani and I am afraid to travel outside of Karachi. May be with family and visiting them in other cities. But not venture alone.
Ali Vazir BBTT Apr 26, 2019 09:46am
In my humble view, being an international tour operator for nearly 7 years, problems occur everywhere. No doubt Pakistan is a very young and fragile travel market. Therefore, telling the truth and making people aware of some concerns is a healthy measure. But negativity should not be the whole focus and may not be magnified. At the same time, the govt needs to show the 'change'. Announcements about visa policy have been different from on ground reality. From 180 countries initial announcement to 55 and now 'visa on arrival' for only 3 countries (UAE, Malaysia and Turkey); + 2 (China and UK) have 'Electronic Travel Authorization' from Nadra's website.
Ali Apr 26, 2019 09:53am
If you want to promote Pakistan to the west it has to be through the eyes of a western vlogger. Selecting the right vlogger and content is the main challenge. Pakistani vloggers will nowhere close to the international reach that is needed.
Deepak Apr 26, 2019 10:09am
The goras always get preferential treatment in Asian countries. The moment of truth shall prevail only when some neighboring countries of Pakistan give their "insights".
j Apr 26, 2019 12:18pm
What is wrong with projecting a positive image?
Zargham Apr 26, 2019 01:01pm
A little positive content about Pakistan in the international media and even that is not being digested by certain groups of the society. This is an article by AFP and therefore I was quite surprised because I expected it to be written by a pseudo intellectual Pakistani involved in flagellation of Pakistan only trying to be liberal and literary cool etc etc.
Zubair Khan Apr 26, 2019 02:59pm
@NewBorn yes and truth is Pakistan is a beautiful. We need to change our perceptions from negative to positive.
Indian Apr 26, 2019 09:09pm
@Faisal Somalia is actually a great country.
Yawar Apr 27, 2019 08:28am
@Faisal you hit the nail on the head
riz1 Apr 27, 2019 02:50pm
It is very funny. We go all out promoting tourism and many tourists do make it and then they enter places considered dangerous by Pakistanis, get harassed or raped or killed en masse and then there is a complete boycott of Pakistan. Do we want the repeated experience of the K2 mountaineers to be rehashed? Do we see any mountaineer expeditions like before? Ditto with cricket and other games, until we address our myriad security problems by getting rid of our greedy establishment elites and exercising conplete civilian control over policing and other civilian necessities, nothing will change here. Such comments can keep getting blocked here, but it does not take away one bit from the truth. Pakistan zindabad.
Tiwana Apr 27, 2019 03:19pm
I want to my ancestors land aka harappa mohenjodaro
Sohail Apr 27, 2019 04:54pm
@Ahmed A Khan OK..
Sadaf Apr 27, 2019 07:59pm
Well Well Well A major conflict of interest. See where the funding is coming from
Laila Apr 28, 2019 03:34am
They are honest to the extent that they are paid and sponsered. Afterall that is why critical voices were excluded from this event.
Abdullah Ali Apr 29, 2019 11:52pm
Very well spoken