If You Build It, They Will Come… Or Will They?

Mohenjodaro

 

Yet another country, Pakistan, has bought into a heritage tourism development strategy, investing substantial public funds without considering the risks of failure as seriously as the prospects of success.  It’s as if there is a naïve trust by leaders and bureaucrats all across this globalized world that no matter the (violent) context and the (lack of) infrastructure, heritage sites have a magical capacity to generate money.  Just put up a fence, install a ticket booth, and away we go…       

Someone is obviously feeding these hopelessly optimistic projections about the profitability of heritage attractions to the governments of developing countries that have little left to sell but their historical souls.  This is because Heritage is Big Business– at least the business of designing and constructing national parks and historical museums– whose costs are borne by the developing nations and whose profits go primarily to multinational design and construction firms.      

Do such heritage attractions really fulfill their economic promise after the festive ribbon-cutting ceremonies on opening day?   Sindh Tourism Minister Shazia Marri, quoted in the Pakistan News article, sincerely hopes so:       

Village Life as Tourist Attraction: Postcard of Tharparkar

 

“We have wonderful heritage, including Moen-jo-Daro, Tharparkar, Ranni Kot, Mansoora (the point where Mohammad bin Qasim entered Sindh), National Kirthar Park, and Makli; and we intend to develop tourist sites at these places… Global revenue from tourism is in the range of $900 billion annually; sadly, we generate only 0.02 per cent of our annual revenue from tourism…”      

She then went on to report that “President Asif Ali Zardari is optimistic that 20 to 30 per cent revenue in Pakistan could be generated from tourism.”      

Where do these numbers come from?  Can Pakistan really depend on heritage tourism for its economic salvation? Even Minister Marri had to admit that there are three main concerns in developing tourism in Pakistan: “the law-and-order situation; communication facilities; and the construction of restrooms at heritage sites.”      

Those sound like pretty big challenges to me.  And the risks of heritage tourism in a state as unstable and underdeveloped as Pakistan go far beyond the accuracy of revenue projections.  Their failure could further endanger Pakistan’s economy and sow further disappointment with globalization– while doing little or nothing to enhance local pride or positive identification with the country’s cultural heritage.

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