In this week’s Coffee With Y, Team Y talks to a young Muscat-based expat committed to raising the profile of his home country – Pakistan – breaking down stereotypes, and forging new cultural bonds along the way.
When you think of hopping on to a flight from Muscat and spending an hour-and-a-half travelling to a new destination, it’s not often that your mind would stretch beyond the horizons of Salalah, Qatar, the UAE or even the western Indian states.
But we often overlook that that’s all it takes for a trip to Karachi in Pakistan.
The reasons for this are numerous – some ranging from ignorance while others stem from stereotypes – but tourism to Pakistan from Oman is at an all-time low, even though the nation witnessed a 300 per cent growth in the sector since security was spruced up in 2014.
Despite that, a group of Pakistani expats from Oman is looking to change preconceptions – and is helping to beef up tourism in their beloved home country.
This group – dubbed ‘Pakistan Awaits’ – was founded by Huzaifa Ubaid Khan, a 23-year-old digital marketer, in his spare time, and it has come on in leaps and bounds in just under a year.
Since its inception, the group has facilitated free trips to Pakistan for 11 GCC-based influencers, a majority of whom are from Oman.
It’s an astounding achievement and has been highlighted by how this non-profit organisation has amassed more than 3,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook in less than six months.
This week, we sit down with Huzaifa, and Ali Hasan, the finance controller of Pakistan Awaits.
Q) What is Pakistan Awaits – and what are its goals?
A) The idea behind this venture is to capture young minds and make them start talking about Pakistan. Whenever people open their Instagram feeds or Facebook, they must see a positive post about the country that will harbour a feeling of wanting to travel there.
To achieve this, we take influencers and other personalities for free tours that are sponsored by the Pakistan Embassy and other sponsors.
In turn, with their words, actions, and photos, they help promote the real side of Pakistan and how it can wow the people.
Our goals are 1) promoting a positive image of Pakistan; 2) promoting bilateral friendship of Pakistan across the globe; 3) helping Pakistani SMEs to grow; and 4) making Pakistan accessible and the first choice for global adventure tourism.
Q) Can you walk me through the motivation for its formation?
A) Pakistan Awaits has more connections to Oman than it has with Pakistan, and we intend to create a sense of friendliness and connection between the two countries – though we operate out of here.
Oman is where I was born and raised in. However, the idea came together when my cousins, some of whom are citizens of Oman, refuse to even visit the country. And that made me sad.
That planted a seed in my head. This was around the time one of my friends told me that she’d been to Kerala in India.
And as we were discussing this, the idea floated into my head: ‘Hey, why don’t we also go to Pakistan?’
It was just around that time too when I was on Facebook, and coincidentally, the post that pops up on my feed is from the army chief of Pakistan, who asked: “Ask yourself: ‘What have you done for Pakistan?’”
That was the signal for me to go ahead with it. I decided it was time to set up a platform to allow people to visit the country and through their photos, words and actions, help in creating awareness among people.
Pakistan Awaits finally came to being in July 2018.
Q) What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced – and have they changed?
A) There are plenty of stereotypes concerning the nation – and some of them must be broken. However, with Pakistan Awaits, we’ve been able to break a lot of barriers here in Oman.
So, with our first trip alone, in which we took three influencers to the northern parts of the country.
We had put up photos of the Oman flag being waved alongside the Pakistani flag on top of one of the mountains, and we had a picture of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said on top of
Since then, we’ve seen amazing response from the people. So, when we put up our plans for a second trip, we had 180 entries – from which 95 per cent were Omanis and 5 per cent were Indians.
But, there were moments after our first trip when we were asked if all our plans would fall into place and if the trip would happen. And as inexperienced as I was then, I went with the flow. It was only when we landed and when everyone was welcomed with garlands that I ran towards everyone and shouted: “It’s happening.”
‘It’s Happening’ eventually went on to become our tagline
Q) Do you think Pakistan has what it takes to become a leader in global tourism?
A) Yes, and I’ll tell you why. Pakistan is in a very interesting location, due to which there’s a very dynamic climatic system in the country. This means you’ll find all four seasons in Pakistan throughout the year. There are also beautiful mountain ranges on one side and even prettier beaches on the other.
It has always been an option for leisure tourists until the whole perception of the place changed due to a series of unfortunate incidents. So, we can say by about late 2001, the tourism industry in Pakistan dropped. And then there was 15 years of constant turmoil. But things have started to change.
Q) What sort of tourism does Pakistan promote?
A) As we said, Pakistan has a wide range of places with touristic importance.
The current government is investing in a lot of tourism opportunities and we have a lot of infrastructure that is related to the industry. So, you not only have one destination but many.
For example, the Swat Valley is a truly mesmerising place. Then there’s the Malam Jabba Ski Resort, the Gilgit Valley, Hunza Valley and so on. There are several resorts to choose from, some even as old as 100 years or more.
Q) Is this the first time that Pakistan has promoted tourism to such an extent?
A) It’s not widely known but Pakistan used to have a very strong tourism industry. It was a hub for international tourism, and Europeans frequented the snow-covered peaks for trekking and other activities.
Pakistan used to be a transit point for flights. And even more astonishingly, UAE-carrier Emirates’ first flight was to Karachi in 1985 and their staff was trained by the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
Q) How can one be selected for a trip with Pakistan Awaits?
A) The selection process is very stringent. So, you need to have a certain number of followers and a reach to be selected. Everything from the stay to the food and travel is taken care of by Pakistani businesses in Oman and the people even stay with local families.
This way, they can experience the true side of Pakistan and not one where they see the fancy hotels and inns.
Then it’s the power of social media that takes things forward. Pictures, stories, articles, and just word of mouth: that’s all is required by these tourists.
The Pakistani ambassador, Ali Javed, has been extremely involved in the process from the start and the embassy has been very supportive in procuring visas for everyone. Without them, this whole venture would still be on the starting line.
Q) What’s next for you and the group?
A) We intend to continue offering such non-profit services to the people of Oman and to extend it as far and wide as we possibly can. We’ve already had a Bahrain-based influencer on board with us so it’s safe to assume we can build on that.
But, we also do not want to restrict ourselves to tourism. We hope to help companies invest in the country and offer education opportunities by bringing exchange programmes into schools.
Things have changed since 2019 and Pakistan has emerged from it all. We’ve fallen plenty of times but we continue to rise. And the strong people of Pakistan are behind it all.