In many developing and underdeveloped countries around the world tourism is considered a prominent source of revenue. There are countless examples of how a strong tourism sector can contribute to the economic development of the country and its general socio-economic progress.
Pakistan enjoys a central location in Asia and is slowly becoming a favorite travel destination for tourists. The country is gifted with an illustrious history, natural landscapes, exceptional snow-capped peaks, and rich culture. Even though the tourism industry in the country is growing for the better, it is necessary for the government to take some steps to ensure that ecotourism is also practiced and promoted.
Theoretically, Pakistan is still a developing country and thus, not many policies have been formulated regarding sustainable tourism. However, some initiatives are still in progress e.g. relaxation in the country’s visa policy for foreign nationals.
The Pakistani government is collaborating with organizations like Sustainable Tourism Foundation Pakistan (STFP) in hopes that the development of sustainable tourism would attract more investment in tourism-affiliated businesses in order for increased job creation. With the lockdowns subsiding, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) is further planning to open up an e-portal which would be a one-stop solution for tourists. It will provide them with facilities like virtual galleries, tourism videos, and details regarding the available services being offered at various tourism spots in Pakistan (PakistanToday, 2020). The PTDC is also working on a National Tourism Strategy for the 2020-2030 term which will provide a framework for Pakistan’s tourism sector. As a part of this strategy, several working groups would be formed to plan specific strategies as per their designated areas of operation, for example, ecotourism working groups, etc. (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, n.d.). Moreover, the government is also preparing to conduct a World Tourism Forum to portray Pakistan’s tourism potential.
Other sustainable tourism initiatives include the KPK government’s anti-encroachment drive in the Kaghan Valley. This drive aims to clear out any illegal constructions in the area in order to recover various occupied sites in the region. Moreover, the Kaghan Development Authority (KDA) has further issued notifications to site owners prior to these anti-encroachment campaigns. Other illegal constructions in the surrounding areas have also been cleared to maintain the valley’s natural beauty.
As per the government’s Clean Green Initiative, activities that harm the ecosystem have also been banned in the area like motorboating, fishing, rafting, and the use of polythene bags (BusinessRecorder, 2021). Instead, more sustainable alternatives are being practiced such as the use of biodegradable plastics. Officials claim that PTI’s Billion Tree Tsunami Project and afforestation programs are also bearing fruitful results. Extra measures have also been taken by authorities, such as patrolling and monitoring for illegal activities in tourist areas that may possibly cause harm to nature.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has also launched the Travel Responsibility for Experiencing Eco-Tourism (TREK), which is a collaborative initiative between the KPK government, the World Bank, and Nestle. The program aims for conducting awareness campaigns related to sustainable tourism, responsible waste management, and recycling. The primary goal of the project is to promote sustainable tourism while ensuring the protection of the natural environment and tourist hotspot sites in the KPK region (BusinessRecorder, 2020). It is believed that the TREK initiative would assist in overcoming the challenges of waste management and land pollution to ensure maximum protection for the flora and fauna in tourist areas.
Surely, Pakistan has moved up significant ranks in being a worth-visiting destination amongst tourists. The government and NGOs have taken steps to promote responsible and sustainable tourism in the country. However, Pakistan still possesses lots of potential to further revitalize its tourism sector as there is still room for improvement in categories like security. Although ecotourism has just taken a start, if our citizens, the government, and NGOs put in collective efforts and act responsibly, Pakistan can undoubtedly emerge as a traveler’s heaven with ecotourism for local and foreign travelers.