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Speech by his Highness the Aga Khan At The Opening Of The Islamabad Serena Hotel Islamabad, Pakistan

Monday, 2002, March 11
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Your Excellency, General Pervez Musharraf,
Begum Musharraf,
Honourable Governors,
Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished Guests

It gives me great pleasure to take part in the formal opening of the Islamabad Serena Hotel today, although, as some of you know, it has been open to the public since the end of last year.

I should like to begin by expressing to President and Begum Musharraf the gratitude of everyone connected with this endeavour, including myself, for accepting our invitation to be present on this happy day.

My respectful admiration and warm gratitude go to those who have made this ambitious undertaking come to fruition. Sadly, I cannot name everyone who deserves to be recognised today. But special mention must go Prince Amyn - my brother - Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) and of Tourism Promotion Services (TPS) (Pakistan), and to Sultan Allana, Chairman of the Executive Committee of TPS (Pakistan), Azizi Boolani, Managing Director of TPS (Pakistan), architect Nayyar Ali Dada, Nizar Shariff, head of the construction division of my Secretariat, and to contractor Akram Mughal. Together they have successfully met all of the challenges that had to be mastered, from the removal of outsized sub-soil boulders, to the seismic design of the building, the manufacturing of unique furniture and finishes using indigenous materials and craftsmanship, to producing a singularly high quality level of overall construction. It is remarkable and praiseworthy that the Islamabad Serena opened its doors on schedule despite the project-specific challenges and the difficult circumstances that have surrounded this country, and indeed the whole region since last September.

The Islamabad Serena stands as a visible, tangible expression of the commitment of the Aga Khan Fund to the economic development of Pakistan. Here, as in the two earlier hotels built on green field sites in Quetta and Faisalabad, and where there were no design limitations, the attention to detail and the mixture of the wide array of Pakistani cultural, aesthetic and artisanal traditions confirm that AKFED is as respectful of the various cultures that inform Pakistan as it is desirous of promoting the economy of the country.

AKFED is one of the apex institutions that together form the Aga Khan Development Network. It has been active these past 10 years in more than 18 countries of the developing world. In this region it has important projects in the Industrial, Financial, Tourism and Infrastructure sectors, ranging from activities as diverse as the Pamir Energy Station in Tajikistan to telecommunications, from banks to insurance to new microfinance institutions. Only this morning we officially launched the "First MicroFinanceBank" of Pakistan here in Islamabad. AKFED currently has some 90 significant projects spread over 20 countries with a total gross asset value of more than 1.5 billion dollars. It is a venture capital company that makes equity investments for the long term, is committed to the development of human resources where it works, and recirculates its profits to further entrepreneurial development initiatives in countries of Africa and Asia.

Looking ahead, I expect AKFED, and indeed all the other agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network to be deeply involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Likewise, we are currently looking at rapidly becoming more active in the economic development of Iran.

Tourism is a sector of Pakistan's economy that has significant potential. Much has already been written and said about its benefits. It can of course increase a country's foreign exchange earnings in the measure in which the country receives an appreciable number of international visitors, just as it can stimulate broad areas of the economy that service the leisure industry, ranging from agriculture to light industry and handicrafts, from the construction industry to those industries related to interior d├ęcor such as the furniture industry and textiles.

I would like, however, to emphasise some other aspects of tourism that I think of particular relevance at the present time. Of all industries, tourism is probably the greatest creator of jobs, for its capacity to draw on all levels of the labour force in terms of education and skills, and all types of enterprises from family businesses to international corporations. Tourism, to the extent that it covers all parts of a country and is respectful of the differences that characterise them, be they natural, cultural, traditional or other, can act as a strong force for unity and peace while recognising, and indeed underlining and relying upon, diversity and pluralism. Just as the people who work in the leisure industry are expected to be prepared and able to move from one part of the country to another, so residents and international visitors alike are attracted to travel to the different areas of the country and to appreciate their distinctive qualities. Tourism, in this sense, has a strong educational effect that should not be under-estimated, for the tourists themselves, and for persons working within the industry.

It is also, however, a highly diffident industry, which easily shies away when it perceives threats to security, to health, or from inequitable business practices.

For the international leisure traveller, Pakistan offers a rather different array of attractions in comparison to some of its immediate neighbours. There are probably fewer lavish palaces and monuments of international fame here than elsewhere in the region, and some of the culturally important buildings that do exist in Pakistan have not yet been fully restored or promoted. On the other hand, Pakistan has considerable potential not only in its wealth of natural settings, but also in cultural wealth of another type. For example, the lifestyles, and the historic buildings and settlements of the Northern Areas and Chitral, are of major interest to travellers interested in ethnology, and relate to the romance and glamour of the old trade routes such as the Silk Road. Likewise, the reflections of Gandharan art, and the arts and distinctive characteristics of the tribal areas, are of considerable fascination and originality to foreigners, both distant and near.

Pakistan is thus in a potentially enviable position to expand and diversify its leisure industry from business travel, both international and internal, to ecological tourism, cultural tourism, and health and recreational tourism. But to do so, it must enhance its natural and man-made assets and bring them to the attention of the foreign and local markets.

Internal tourism also would seem to have considerable capacity for growth. There remains, however, the on-going problem of the accessibility of some of those areas to which I have just referred. Clearly, it is difficult indeed to promote the Northern Areas when flights to that area are so uncertain and where the road communication is arduous and unreliable. These basic infrastructural problems are known to be costly to solve, but until they are, the full tourism potential of Pakistan is unlikely to be realised, any more, I might add, than the full economic potential of these out-lying areas. In order to open up, and further unify the country, this might be an opportunity to review its overall transport infrastructure and related industries. This would provide the basis for the preparation of a strategic development plan that would answer Pakistan's multiple needs and especially of those parts of the country currently under-served, be they in the North, or the West or even in Gwadar.

If Pakistan wishes her leisure industry to gain international recognition, the levels of service must compare favourably with those currently experienced by international travellers who are becoming evermore discerning about the quality of service yet simultaneously evermore conscious about obtaining true value for their money.

It is perhaps time for Pakistan to look closely at the question of creating one or more institutions specialised in education for all key aspects of the leisure industry. Such education, some elements of which should probably be at the university level, should teach environmental protection and management, cultural history, pluralism in traditions and beliefs, road and air transport and their integration and rationalisation, the specifics of hotel management, and how government policies can enable this segment of the economy to grow by responding creatively to its reasonable needs. Such institutions not only assist in equipping the younger generation for jobs, they do more: in their admissions policy, and in the ethos behind their curriculum, they teach students to recognise that all peoples are equally worthy. By doing so they become powerful forces for promoting pluralistic harmony.

May I thank you President Musharraf for the support that you and your Government have given to this project. I think it must be obvious that without that support the hotel would have been difficult indeed to realise. My hope is that the Islamabad Serena will meet with your and your Government's approval and that it will have the honour of welcoming you and serving you regularly.

Thank you.

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