ISLAMABAD: A study commissioned by the World Bank has identified 23 selected tourist sites across the province of Punjab to delineate the engagement of youth and women in the tourism sector who remain under-represented in most economic activities and policy thinking.
The World Bank has been engaged by the Punjab government to provide technical and financial assistance in catalysing tourism’s growth multiplier in the province. This support has been launched through the bank-assisted Punjab Tourism for Economic Growth project.
The identified sites were: Derawar Fort (Bahawalpur), shrine of Hazrat Syed Ahmed Sultan Sakhi Sarwar (Dera Ghazi Khan), Fort Munro (D.G. Khan), tombs of Shah Rukne Alam, Shah Shams and Mai Maharban (Multan), Harappa (Sahiwal), shrine of Hazrat Baba Haji Sher Chawli Mashaikh (Vehari), shrine (darbar) of Sakhi Saidan Shah Shirazi (Choa Saidan Shah, Chakwal), Rohtas Fort (Jhelum), Mazar Sakhi Sultan Bahu (Jhang), Nur Jahan’s tomb (Lahore), Kalabagh (Mianwali), Sadiq Garh Palace (Bahawalpur), Cholistan Desert (Bahawalpur), Khanpur dam (Haripur), Jallo Park (Lahore), shrine of Hazrat Makhdum Jahaniyan Jahangasht (Bahawalpur), Hiran Minar (Sheikhupura), Lal Suhanra National Park (Bahawalpur), Khabeki Lake (Khushab), Thal Desert, and Raja Man Singh’s Haveli (Jhelum).
Most tourist businesses around the 23 selected sites appear to be insufficient. While they experience increased revenues around seasonal high flows, their profitability declines as revenues increase. The findings show that the businesses were either operating with operational inefficiencies or imbalanced cost structures that depress potentially profitability. The businesses could benefit immensely through technical support that helped them revamp operations such that the revenue-cost dynamic attains better balance, the study emphasised.
The study focused on the economic impacts generated by these businesses for youth and women, and on aggregate level, the limited operational scale of these businesses restricts total employment generated by the business. Young male workers do tend to find employment in tourism businesses around the 23 selected sites, and on average, these businesses employ at least one male worker below the age of 25 years.
However, women remain completely locked out from the operations and economic footprint generated by these businesses. Only two businesses in the listing directory reported employing women, while no women owners were running businesses around the 23 sites. Furthermore, part-time work opportunities remain limited, as very few businesses reported employing part-time workers.
The study also assessed main features of the employment opportunities and participation of women in the tourist labour force around the selected sites. Across the board, the results indicate that women are largely absent from the labour force in the industry. This finding is aligned with the overall levels of female labour force participation in the country.
While women have been reported to have higher comparative participation rates in the labour force engaged with tourism, they are generally under-represented as owners and entrepreneurs in this economy. The study also confirms this feature of women’s participation in tourist economies around the selected sites: none of the businesses listed around the sites were owned or operated by women.
Despite this low skills penetration, slightly more than half of all business reported that training workers in tourism and business skills is likely to improve workers’ efficiency, and improve business operations.
Businesses reported that lack of financial resources, low profitability and weak law and order situation around the tourist sites were operational challenges for their businesses. This finding suggests that businesses need targeted interventions to improve these variables, which will likely help improve the overall business climate around these sites, the study notes.
Despite challenges for these businesses, both intrinsic to the operations and extrinsic in the local economic environment, 83 per cent of business owners indicated that their operations were improving, while 64 per cent expected their businesses to improve in the short-term. A notable feature of the overall causes of deterioration in business performance was attributed to governance weaknesses e.g. regulatory pressures and burdens.
Most of the sites included in the study are governed by multiple and competing jurisdictions exercised by provincial and district-level authorities. In addition, religious tourism sites and the attached economies are further tightly regulated by the management, influential local actors, and government authorities. Easing this regulatory burden and simplifying governance is likely to open up the space for these businesses to improve their performance and increase their impact.
Majority of the tourists to most of the sites were first time visitors which indicate that the tourist flows to these sites were increasing, and new visitors were thronging these attractions. Majority of the visitors indicated that they were visiting the area after recommendations from friends and family.
While tourist traffic was increasing around these sites, most tourists were same-day visitors, and this indicates that businesses around these sites need to diversify product and service offering that allows tourists extend duration of their stays and increase revenue sources for the businesses, according to the study.