We need to be honest, Pakistan is not an easy country to travel in: travel blogger Alex
Alex, American traveller behind the travel blog Lost With Purpose, was invited to speak at the Pakistan Tourism Summit last month. However, she says her talk was cancelled last minute as the organisers said it was too critical and didn't fit the agenda of the summit.
After being "silenced", she decided to upload her talk on Facebook.
In the 15-minute video, Alex feels the PTS failed to fulfill its purpose because the organisers only wanted her to talk about how "awesome Pakistan" is, but refused to address the real concerns Pakistan's tourism may face, which is why she took to social media to share the issues.
"Pakistan is really cool and has a lot of potential", she says, before she starts but explains that "the social media coverage of Pakistan right now is dangerous for the future of the country's tourism."
Here's what she wanted to say at the summit.
1. "Pakistan is not an easy country to travel in and the current social media coverage of it is misleading"
Alex says that the "oversimplification of travel in Pakistan" creates problems for independent travellers as they're likely to encounter unofficial restrictions, harassment from officials, unclear bureaucratic procedures and mandatory armed escorts.
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"In my own experience, security agencies have harassed me or my hosts in every single province that I've been to: Sindh Punjab, KPK and Gilgit-Baltistan. If we're going to advertise Pakistan as the next great travel destination for people instead of the experienced adventure travelers who have been coming here so far there needs to be a logistical overhaul."
Her solution? Firstly, the government can either remove the NOC restrictions all across Pakistan or publish a list stating where one needs an NOC when travelling in the country. Secondly, the police and security forces need to stop harassing foreigners. Thirdly, the government and media need to stop publicising these policy changes unless they've been enacted.
2. "The social media coverage is concerning - not everyone is going to have the same experiences as these white, Western influencers."
This severe lack of representation is a major setback because majority of the travellers in Pakistan are not white.
"Pakistan has a gora complex, a hangover from the colonial era. White people are put on a high pedestal in Pakistan and they receive royal treatment when they come here. Travelers of colour? Not so much.
"Pakistani travelers are not going to have the same experiences as these white influencers are. Pakistani tourists won't receive security escorts when they go to sensitive areas. Pakistani backpackers aren't going to get free handouts just because they walked down the street. Pakistani girls are not going to be celebrated or encouraged to ride bikes or motorbikes around the country like their foreign counterparts.
Also read: The Pakistan Tourism Summit features international travel bloggers, but where are the local influencers?
"I experience this first hand as most people think I'm Pakistani when I walk around. Pakistani women message me all the time on my blog that they want come and travel to Pakistan but they're worried because they're not going to receive the same welcome as these white or foreign travelers do."
Her solution? Pakistan, get over this colonial hangover. You do not need white travellers to validate your country. Travellers of colour need to know what to expect when coming here and who better to set expectations than local influencers who look like them and come from their culture? Representation matters.
Pakistan has an immense pool of local talent of photographers, vloggers, bloggers, who have been documenting the country much longer than any foreigner has. The government and the media need to support more local influencers and influencers of colour; hire them for campaigns, take them on as hosts for travel shows, include them in discussions and talks and share their content.
3. "Potential for cultural clashes in Pakistan is immense"
To be more direct, when she talks about cultural clashes, Alex is talking about the cultural sensitivities of the people in Pakistan.
"You have to be careful when traveling here, and the media coverage says nothing about that. Tourists don't realise that they should keep their atheistic beliefs silent at the dinner table. Couples might not realise they cannot kiss in public or even hold hands, and that it's better to say that they're married if they're not.
"Men can't realise how risky it may be to flirt with a Pakistani woman especially in front of her brothers, fathers or male cousins. Many women may not realise that they might be the only woman on the street more often than not and men might interpret their public presence as a sexual invitation, rather than what it actually is, travelling."
Also read: This photo highlights how we apply different standards to desi women versus foreign women
Her solution? Government and media have to start promoting transparency instead of only promoting highly positive narratives about travel.
She says one should be honest about what it's like to travel here. "Stop flaming, guilting and trying to censor anyone who says or shows something that makes you a little uncomfortable. It's okay to have criticism about a country.
"Despite all these difficulties, people like me have still fallen in love with your country. But the potential has to be managed properly. I just want to help other travellers come to this country and experience what I have - in order to do that the existing problems need to be looked at with a critical eye. I think Pakistan is worth the hype," she concludes.