Eco-tourism: better for Pakistan, better for you!

The overall trend of tourism has increased in Pakistan, especially during Eid holidays

Hafsah Sarfraz June 15, 2018
The writer is a freelance journalist and a development communications professional who is passionate about women empowerment and gender equality

It’s that time of the year again — Eid is almost here and the hills are going to be alive once again. In the recent years especially since Eid has started falling during summer, people have used it an as opportunity to go up north and relax for a few days with friends and family. The overall trend of tourism has increased in Pakistan too; people understand the benefits of taking a break from a hectic life to spend some in a scenic location.

Hundreds of accommodation spaces and hotels have opened up in Murree, Nathiagali, Naran-Kaghan, Muzzafarabad, Azad Kashmir, Swat, Skardu, Gilgit and Hunza. It has also become acceptable for young people to take a break from their lives and go on a hiking trip, girls to travel up north alone and families to spend an entire season in the hills. Several start-ups have been launched that are using technology to connect potential tourists with tourism opportunities enabling Pakistan to put its mark on the world map as a tourist destination too.

Statistically speaking, in the past few years, Pakistan’s tourism is definitely on its way to a revival — 1.75 million tourists visited Pakistan in 2017 alone, 30% of which were domestic. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), last year, revenue from tourism contributed around $19.4 billion to Pakistan’s economy and made up 6.9% of the gross domestic product. The WTTC expects that amount to rise to $36.1 billion within a decade.

While all this paints a very positive picture and portrays a brighter future for Pakistan’s tourism, there is a certain responsibility on domestic tourists and travellers too. The trend of travelling up north has undeniably increased but at the same time, there has been a decline in ecofriendly tourism. A social media video made the rounds on Facebook last year where a native from Hunza requested tourists not to throw their garbage in public spaces and pollute the area. Unfortunately, Hunza is just one of the many areas that have been polluted due to the influx of tourists.

We have witnessed Murree lose its natural beauty due to irresponsible tourism and lack of awareness on the traveller’s part. The city has been polluted, there are garbage heaps everywhere and domestic travellers visit for a few days, litter the area and leave. Every year during the peak season, Kaghan and Naran too get polluted and even Lake Saiful Mulook gets littered with plastic bottles, wrappers and all kinds of garbage.

To think one of the most beautiful lakes in Pakistan is littered like that every year is heart breaking. What is even more disappointing is that this pollution is due to domestic tourists and not foreign ones. The sad reality is that Pakistanis have a crude habit of littering and damaging natural environment wherever they go. However, this needs to change. There is a dire need for creating awareness about ecofriendly tourism and how to preserve the natural beauty.

Ecofriendly tourism is on the rise globally but it needs awareness in Pakistan. It is not only the state’s responsibility. While the state should definitely play a role, hotels in tourist areas should have print-outs of guidelines and personally request tourists to be responsible. Radio, the media and civil society can play a role in promoting ecofriendly tourism. But more importantly, individuals need to take steps too. And these need not be big steps, they can be as simple as ensuring the car you take up north does not release fumes, you should not throw garbage in public spaces, plant trees up north and not cut trees to light a bonfire and stay away from hunting wildlife. These steps will not only ensure you return home with stunning photographs but also a feeling of satisfaction and contentment.

So the next time you are about to throw a plastic bottle on the road while visiting up north during Eid holidays, think thrice! Think about Pakistan’s beautiful areas that we need to prove ourselves worthy of by taking good care of them, think about the rise of tourism in Pakistan after so many years, think about its economic benefits and the growth of GDP, and also think about the small vendors and locals in these places who call them home and make their livelihoods through the visit of tourists. Their lives are improving due to the increase in tourism and if the places lose their charm, they will lose their livelihoods too. They don’t deserve this and neither does Pakistan! It is time we all became responsible tourists.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2018.

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