Islamabad, Pakistan, 11 March 2002 — The inauguration of the Islamabad Serena Hotel by President Pervez Musharraf this afternoon in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of the Ismaili Muslims and Chairman of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), marks a US$29 million investment in an insufficiently exploited sector of Pakistan’s economy.
In his welcome speech, Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Chairman of the Executive Committee of AKFED and of its subsidiary, Tourism Promotion Services (Pakistan), referred to distinctive aspects of AKFED’s tourism development in Pakistan. As an example of regionalisation he mentioned the use of Pakistani manpower, experience and expertise from the Serena chain to of convert a house in Khorog, Tajikistan into a small inn. He also explained how TPS’s decision to begin operations in “cities where private enterprise had shown a disinclination to invest in hotels” reflected “precisely the role that a development agency like AKFED should play.” Prince Amyn described how the choice of an award-winning Pakistani architect, Mr. Nayyar Ali Dada fitted within “the Serena development ethos which focuses on promoting local forms of architecture, on reflecting and expressing local cultures.”
Characterising the importance of the hotel in a speech on the occasion, President Musharraf said that it was not “a matter of creating facilities for accommodation, catering and leisure alone,” but that “the project adds to the existing infrastructure that strengthens the economy also in terms of employment generation and income generation.” He went on to compliment AKFED and its subsidiary, Tourism Promotion Services “for making a very valuable contribution to private investment and employment opportunities in Pakistan, other than through beautification of Islamabad city itself.” “The project,” he said, “ is indeed a symbol of trust and confidence in the capital city.”
“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 relying upon, diversity and pluralism.” The Aga Khan took the opportunity of his remarks to highlight aspects of tourism’s contribution beyond the foreign exchange that it generates and the stimulus to sectors of the economy such as agriculture, light industry, handicrafts, construction, furniture and textiles.
Situating the Islamabad Serena Hotel and the investment in tourism within AKFED’s approach to challenges prevailing in the economies of Pakistan and the region, the Aga Khan expressed his intentions for AKFED to become more involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and in economic development in Iran.
Striking a note of realism, the Aga Khan cautioned that tourism was “also, however, a highly diffident industry, which easily shies away when it perceives threats to security, to health, or from inequitable business practices.” Noting that Pakistan offered “a rather different array of attractions in comparison to some of its immediate neighbours,” the Aga Khan mentioned that “Pakistan has considerable potential not only in its wealth of natural settings, but also in cultural wealth of another type.” Referring to interest in ethnology of the Northern Areas, the romance of the Silk Road and reflections of Gandharan art and crafts of the tribal areas, the Aga Khan said these were “of considerable fascination and originality to foreigners, both distant and near.”
Looking to the potential and capacity for growth of the industry, the Aga Khan pointed to the need for Pakistan to consider a review of its overall transport infrastructure and for levels of service to become more internationally competitive. The Aga Khan thought that Pakistan might wish to look closely at institutions specialised in educating for the tourism industry with courses at university level covering topics such as “environmental protection and management, cultural history, pluralism in traditions and beliefs, road and air transport and their integration and rationalisation and the specifics of hotel management.”
One of the enduring achievements of such an institution, the Aga Khan hoped, would be their ability to “teach students to recognise that all peoples are equally worthy.” “By doing so,” he said, such institutions “become powerful forces for promoting pluralistic harmony.”
Developed to the highest standards of construction and design, using indigenous material, all worked by hand, ranging from hand-hewn marble to specially carved furniture, traditionally woven fabrics and thousands of square feet of individually hand-painted wooden ceiling panels, the Islamabad Serena Hotel disguises with elegance the most advanced levels of technology, service and safety in the hospitality industry in the country today.
Within each of its 105 luxurious rooms, the décor and furnishings follow a consistent theme of Swati or Punjabi traditions but also include interactive television and on-line internet access facilities. Its facilities include six quality restaurants, a grand ballroom accommodating upto 1000 people, full business and conference facilities, a modern health club with leisure facilities and an outdoor pool. Set in six acres of landscaped gardens on several levels, the premises are cleared to withstand seismic disturbances well over 7.5 on the Richter scale.
With the Islamabad Serena included, the group has some 1,800 Serena rooms spread across 21 hotels and lodges in East and sub-Saharan Africa and Pakistan.
The Aga Khan, who is in Pakistan on an official visit at the invitation of the Government, is accompanied by his wife, the Begum Aga Khan and by his brother, Prince Amyn Aga Khan.
AKFED is the economic development arm of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a group of private, non-denominational development agencies seeking to improve opportunities and living conditions in specific regions of the developing world, especially Africa and Asia. Active in the fields of industry, financial services, tourism development and infrastructure in fifteen countries across South and Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, AKFED operates as a network of affiliates with more than 90 separate project companies employing over 15,000 people.
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is an international group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions that seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities. The mandates of the Network’s agencies and institutions range from architecture and culture to health, education, rural development and the promotion of private sector enterprise. Working in over 20 countries, the Network’s underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.
In Pakistan, the AKDN’s activities encompass the operation of an extensive system of schools and healthcare institutions, a renowned rural support programme, industrial and tourism development, cultural restoration, financial institutions and one of the region’s pre-eminent centres of higher learning and research.
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