Pakistan to develop first-ever tourist map to promote tourism, attract local, foreign tourists say’s Zulfi Bukhari, special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Here he tells our Editor in Chief Natasha Syed how he is realising Prime Minister Khan’s vision for a 21st-century Pakistan with an impressive strategy for encouraging Pakistanis from around the world to return to their country; by rebuilding infrastructure, generating employment and to make Pakistan a serious world-beating tourist destination.
Tell us about yourself and your beginnings into business and politics?
I was born and raised in the UK in the 1980s and I stayed there until I was 13. Then my father, a successful entrepreneur, wanted me and my sister to have more of a connection with Pakistan because he felt that if we stayed in the UK for too long, we would lose a sense of our heritage and culture.
From the age of 13-17 years, he moved me, my sisters and mother to Pakistan so we were here for another 3.5 years. After that I came back to the UK alone, finished my studies at Brunel University and from there I went on to taking over his business and managing, developing and structuring my own. My business consists of Martin Kemp Interior Design Company, a world leading interior company. I also had HPM Developments, one of the larger development companies in the UK; we have built big homes – such as Petra Ecclestone’s – to boutique hotels and luxury yachts.
I have also owned the largest mixed martial art gyms in the world – Hooks gym, which I sold to Pure Gyms. That became Pure Gyms’ head office and flagship gym – it’s become a big chain of gyms now in the UK.
I tried something new by producing a movie called Cake, which was a Pakistani/ British movie, one of the first to premiere in Leicester square. It did really well, won movie of the year. It was acclaimed by The Guardian and by the BBC.
In the last 10 to 12 years, I started crossing paths with the current prime minister Imran Khan. It started off as a friendship, then I moved into helping him on a couple of international projects. I realised I was spending a lot of time with him and during that time my parents and family moved back to Pakistan, so I was alone in London.
When Imran used to come to the UK, we used to spend a lot of time together and I started to travel with him internationally as well.
I come from a political family, as well, my uncle is an MP here in Pakistan and has been re-elected 3-4 times, my cousin now is an MP and my father was a federal minister before, so when the elections came in 2018 the Prime Minister was contesting from Islamabad, but his election campaign wasn’t doing so well, and he asked me to take over and run his election campaign from the capital which was against the current prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. So, I took over the campaign and won the election by 50,000 votes.
When we won, the Prime Minister said he wanted me to be part of his cabinet and I was thrilled and accepted the role.
I started off with the Ministry of Overseas Pakistani and Human Resource Development. The Prime Minister was Head of Tourism but since his workload increased, he gave me tourism as well.
We’ve changed the scope of what overseas Pakistanis are – before it was our labour force going abroad. We’ve opened up a dialogue on what it means to be Pakistani. The Pakistani diaspora numbers 10 million worldwide and the goal is to bring them back. Perhaps they were inclined to forget their Pakistani roots because Pakistan was linked to terrorism, corruption; it had the worst leaders. Yet now is a time where everyone is very proud of their Prime Minster and wants to be Pakistani again.
“When compared with Turkey and Malaysia, which earn $40 billion, $20 billion per annum from tourism, Pakistan despite having numerous tourist sites earns nothing,” Imran Khan. But that’s about to change says Zulfi Bukhari.
How are you helping the industry to recover post COVID-19?
At the movement we are working on relief, we’ve given certain relief packages to the tourism sector, waving certain fees for our tour operators, trying to bring them into medium to small enterprises.
The Prime Minister has eased construction and waved fees until the end of December 2020 to help build employment.
We have now created SOP’s for when tourism does open. We’ve done the first draft, which is very good, and we are going to finalise them hopefully.
It’s the first time we have made a five-year action plan and policy for tourism. We have also created a brand, which we were going to launch last April but we were hit with Covid-19, so we are hoping to launch it soon.
Why are you keen to help Pakistani’s overseas and fellow Pakistanis in general?
Well, I’m an overseas Pakistani myself so I know how it feels; I’ve been in the private sector all of my life and just helping out and being able to see the joy on people’s faces when we’ve managed to resolve land disputes is such a thrill.
The biggest motivation has been the Prime Minister himself, he’s full of energy and positivity, and he’s one of the sincerest people I’ve ever met so it makes my life easier.
By Natasha Syed
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