The importance of tourism had been recognized since early days of SAARC. The Leaders during the Second Summit held at Bangalore in 1986 underlined that concrete steps should be taken to facilitate tourism in the region.A Technical Committee on Tourism was created in 1991. During the First Meeting of the Technical Committee on Tourism held in Colombo in October 1991, an Action Plan on Tourism was formulated.
2. First Meeting of the SAARC Tourism Ministers was held in Colombo in September 1997. It adopted Colombo Resolution and approved a number of important activities. In 1999, the task of promoting tourism was assigned to the SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI) Tourism Council.
3. The Twenty-fourth Session of the Council of Ministers (Islamabad, 2-3 January 2004) approved establishment of the Working Group on Tourism. The First Meeting was held in Colombo in August 2004. The Working Group on Tourism prepared Plan of Activities which includes promotion of SAARC as a common tourist destination, to encourage private sector in promoting regional cooperation in tourism, human resource development, promotion of South Asia identity through tourism, cultural and eco-tourism development. The Working Group was authorized to periodically review implementation of this Action Plan.
4. During the Thirteenth Summit (Dhaka, 12-13 November 2005), the Leaders stressed that continued efforts would be made by the Member States at all levels to promote people-to-people contact by facilitating travel among SAARC countries, promotion of youth exchanges in culture and sports, promotion of intra-SAARC tourism, establishment of linkages among professional bodies and through adoption of other concrete measures. They decided to launch 2006 as “South Asia Tourism Year." They directed their Ministers for Tourism to meet at an early date and elaborate a plan of activities to be undertaken during the year 2006.
5. The Tourism Ministers who met at Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh) in May 2006, adopted the Cox’s Bazar SAARC Action Plan on Tourism.
6. Second Meeting of the Working Group on Tourism, held in Colombo on 3-4 July 2006, recommended that for promoting SAARC as common tourist destination (i) national airlines may use SAARC logo on aircrafts and other promotional brochures; (ii) national airlines may also use SAARC flag with their own flag as well as national flags at their offices and (iii) the Head of Mission representing the Chair of SAARC will organize special events in celebration of SAARC Charter Day on 8 December, with focus on promoting tourism.
7. In the Fourteenth Summit the Heads of State or Government while noting the cultural and social ties among the SAARC countries, based on common history and geography, reiterated that the future of peoples of South Asia is interlinked. They stressed the importance of people-to-people contact as a key constituent in regional connectivity. They acknowledged the importance of intra-regional tourism and increased exchanges, particularly among the youth, civil society, and parliamentarians. They agreed to take measures to charge nationals of SAARC Member States fees for entry into archeological and heritage sites as applicable to their own nationals.
8. The Heads of State or Government during the Fifteenth Summit underscored the vital contribution that tourism could afford to the economic development of the SAARC region. They agreed to make every effort to implement the comprehensive action plan adopted by the Second Ministerial Meeting held at Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. These efforts would include facilitating the movement of people through improved travel infrastructure and air, sea and land connectivity among the SAARC countries, collaboration in human resource development and the promotion of SAARC as a common destination through public-private partnerships and joint campaigns.
9. The Working Group in its Third Meeting held in Colombo in April 2009 reviewed the status of implementation of the Summit directives, SAARC Action Plan on tourism, and various decisions taken by the Ministerial and Working Group Meetings. It also finalized a list of activities to be undertaken during the year 2009-10 for tourism promotion among the SAARC countries.
10. Third Meeting of the SAARC Tourism Ministers, preceded by Fourth Meeting of the Working Group on Tourism was held at Kathmandu in January 2011. The Meeting reviewed implementation of the decisions taken at its last meeting. It also reviewed the status of implementation of the SAARC Action Plan on Tourism-2006 and noted with satisfaction that most of the decisions taken earlier have been implemented by the Member States.
11. The Minister/ leaders of the delegations in their statements emphasized that concerted efforts should be made by Member States to implement all decisions taken by this Forum as well as the Working Group Meetings. They reiterated to adopt a collective approach in promoting regional tourism.