From ‘most dangerous’ to ‘best holiday destination’: K-P’s struggle through the past decade

Being caught in the crosshairs of the ‘war on terror’ for decades had left K-P with an image which told of

Being caught in the crosshairs of the ‘war on terror’ for decades had left K-P with an image which told of the province’s past- tainted with violence and extremism. However, as the province remarries a life of peace and harmony, Pakistan’s North-Western region has remarkably transitioned from once known as the most dangerous in the world to the best holiday destination for 2020.

Seeing the potential for tourism in the province, the K-P government has shown a particular interest in preparing for the expected influx of tourists next year. According to the plan, not only will locals be helped to convert their properties into vacationer-friendly spaces and receive hospitality industry training but the government also looks forward to joining hands with foreign vloggers to promote international tourism in the mountainous district.

Despite their friends and family back home being sceptical about their decision, vloggers and tourism influencers visiting the country believe that Pakistan, with its rich culture and fascinating landscapes, holds quite the potential for tourism. This, according to senior government officials, is one of the reasons why the government has been focusing on developing tourist destinations, constructing roads and fixing damaged infrastructure in the province. Per sources, the provincial government will also sanction loans of up to Rs 1 million to allow locals to upgrade their homes and make tourist-friendly spaces.

“The ministry expects a huge number of local as well as foreign tourists which is why we’ve allocated Rs5 billion for the construction of roads leading to the 14 newly discovered tourist destinations as well as Rs9 billion to manage infrastructure in the erstwhile tribal areas, which to have great potential for tourism” K-P Minister for Tourism Atif Khan, told The Express Tribune.

According to foreign tourists, mainstream global media has for long, presented a rather one-dimensional image of Pakistan, which has essentially shaped the opinions of their friends and family who view the country as a hub of terror and extremism. But in recent times, with the emergence of Pakistan as a centre for tourism, the government has been utilizing all its resources to facilitate religious tourists specifically from Korea, Thailand and other far-eastern countries in a bid to send a message of peace and interfaith harmony.

As part of the ongoing efforts, the visa restrictions have been lifted and locals, as well as international tourists, have been visiting different parts of the province. The 15 international vloggers, who visited Pakistan in the course of the last 12 months, as part of Changing Perception––a tourism boosting initiative––, believe that Pakistan is more than its media portrayal and the country has plenty to offer to the world.

Erike Santos, one of the 15 vloggers who visited the country, said that she had always wanted to see Pakistan for herself and refused to listen to the twisted words of the mainstream media and the naysayers who been following her travels.

“Their first reaction was— you should not be going to Pakistan and that (I should) excuse them [Changing Perception team members],” Santos told The Express Tribune. “I wanted to see all this—on the ground and I am super happy—to be honest, people here are friendly and they want to be with you—talk to you,” she shared.

Santos, who loved her stay in Peshawar, also said that seeing the streets of the city abuzz with people, made her feel comfortable. “It felt like a home away from home, I loved walking on the vibrant streets and tasting all the delicious food the city had to offer.”

Tom Grond, another vlogger, who is originally from the Netherlands stated that he had been travelling for over 2,538 days across the world—to different countries including Iraq and Syria. This is not the first time that Grond has travelled to Pakistan but he hopes broadcasting his trip to his followers will help change the world’s perspective about South Asia and the Middle East.

“Everything in the media is made up. But I’m trying to show the real essence of these countries to thousands of people through my Instagram blog,” he said. “Every time I see people out on these vibrant streets, it fills me with joy and excitement––I love their energy,” he added.

Grond stated that he found Pakistanis, especially people in Peshawar ‘super-friendly’. “My message will obviously be — it is absolutely amazing to travel to Peshawar and walking in these streets at night is one of the most uplifting experiences. I’d want everyone to experience Peshawar at least once in their lifetime.”

Digital creator and YouTuber Haley Dasovich, who also visited Pakistan as part of the Change Perception campaign, said that her family members and friends were initially sceptical about her decision to visit Pakistan. “They would always ask me of my reasons to travel to Pakistan, which they consider an absolutely unlivable war-torn place,” said Dasovich. “Although I was a little influenced by their opinions but I made a leap of faith and now that I’ve visited Pakistan, I can proudly say that it was a life-changing experience and I’ll recommend all my friends and followers to visit as well,” she added.

Canadian Vlogger Ryan Riel was also part of the fifteen vlogger team which was presented with the opportunity to experience the north-west of Pakistan. Although Riel had been to Pakistan in 2018 for the first Changing Perception trip, but it was his first time visiting Peshawar, which he considers was a fascinating experience.

“It [his tour to Peshawar] has completely changed my perception and this would be the focus of my Vlogs—the hustle and bustle of life, the traffic, the food streets, the delicious cuisine, the mouthwatering dishes and the rich history and culture which reflects in every aspect of the city,” said Riel, talking about his time filming his stay in the city.