Sindh Directorate of Tourist Services (DTS) has requested the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to block leading international travel booking and hotel reservation websites including Booking.com, Expedia, Airbnb, and Agoda.
The authority is seemingly doing so due to a complaint received from a local travel operator, Travel Horizontal. The move comes as a surprise, considering that the federal government is doing its best to make Pakistan a tourist hub.
According to Sindh DTS Controller Manzoor Hussain Mari, the complaint said:
These online services have a competitive advantage over local travel and tourism operators as they are not subject to Pakistan’s tax regime. They often enjoy a price advantage of up to 15 to 20% over local companies.
Travel Horizontal claimed that these companies often mislead prospective tourists regarding room rents and other policies and that their services are not regularized under the local laws.
The provincial DTS is responsible for regulating all travel and booking services while also keeping a check on prices and customer satisfaction.
However, the directorate’s decision is supposedly being made without taking into consideration the users and local as well as foreign tour and travel operators, which shows a lack of professionalism. When asked about the response of concerned websites, Sindh DTS Controller said that they haven’t contacted these websites.
The complete ban on these websites not only impacts the prospective tourists planning to visit Pakistan, but also the local travelers who travel abroad.
According to the reports, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) had requested to review the complaint under section 37 of the cybercrime act. DTS, however, directly asked FIA for a ban without sending their feedback to PTA.