Mohammad Khalid Shah, corporate director of IT at Avari Hotels, is certainly thinking about it... but are the others in the hospitality industry?
When you think of Pakistan you certainly don't think much of the hospitality industry and give even lesser thought to how a hotel is run in the circumstances that it is. Having only a handful of names that include the likes of the Sheraton, Pearl Continental, Marriott and Holiday Inn, the lack of a strong tourism industry hasn't provided hotels much reason to provide services geared towards the tourist. On the other hand with Pakistan poised as a hub for outsourcing, manufacturing and infrastructure development, the number of expos, conferences and growth in trade and business find hotels packed with foreigners and out-of-towners that frequent the large cities in search of rest, relaxation and connectivity with the rest of the world.
The hospitality industry in Pakistan might be small but it does possess an importance in linking Pakistan with several other countries. The franchises put us on the map, so to speak, and no service-intensive industry will progress unless its target audience better understands the technology infrastructure that runs through it -- especially not an industry that wants to compete in the open market today.
The hotel industry isn't a new vertical for Pakistan by any measure. The Hashoo Group is perhaps better known because of the Holiday Inn franchise they established in 1972, however a local family-run business with the name 'Avari' had already set their foundations in the industry back in 1944.
Like so many other businesses, hotels don't operate in isolation. Their growth depends on the development of local tourism, investor incentive and economic stability. The post partition era is often referred to as a renaissance in Pakistan's history where investment flowed in as freely as an open culture greatly influenced by the British Raj. When General Ayub Khan was still in power, he had the foresight to encourage the development of hotels which would hopefully support a growing tourism industry. By the time the hotels were operational, General Zia ul Haq came into power, and prohibition replaced the nightclubs and curtailed the nightlife that provided a strong revenue stream to the hotels.
Hotels looked to other ways of generating income and ventured into the catering business. No nightlife lessened the number of reasons for the Western tourist who had the capacity to spend money to visit Pakistan which meant a dwindling tourist stream.
Hotels had to change strategy -- the shift from catering to the tourist to attracting the business traveler.
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