Pakistan is a melting pot of culture, cuisine, and people. Its majestic mountains, sprawling valleys, rich cultural heritage, hospitable & friendly people, and fast-improving tourism infrastructure offer some of the best tourism opportunities of the world. Given its potential, Prime Minister Imran Khan rightfully asserts that Pakistan could become one of the top tourist destinations of the world.
The government from the start placed the tourism industry as one of its top priorities; grealizing that given the labor intensive nature of the industry, it could play a huge role in creating jobs and income growth. However, simultaneously, PM Khan has been clear that any development done should have sustainability of the environment as a basic premise.
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Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the ‘Travel Responsibly for Experiencing Eco-Tourism (TREK),’ TREK is a joint project of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, the World Bank and Nestlé Pakistan that will promote responsible and eco-friendly tourism in the scenic province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the picturesque Northern Areas of Pakistan. The TREK initiative has brought together partners from diverse fields to protect the ecosystem through solid waste management and plastic recycling at tourism sites.
PM Imran Khan appreciated the work being done and said that the project is the need of the hour for Pakistan as ecotourism takes both economic goals and preservation of nature in tandem. The Prime Minister, himself, is very conscious of countering the threat of climate change and has launched the ambitious programs of 1 billion trees in KP and 10 billion trees all over Pakistan as a critical crux of his sustainable development-oriented policies. PM Imran Khan has earlier said that unplanned tourism and concrete structures rather than movable structures have destroyed the enchanting landscapes of Murree and Nathia Gali. He reiterated that tourism remains unsustainable until the local population reaps benefits.
Prime Minister has expressed his hope that initiatives like TREK would motivate the local population as well as tourists to take care of the areas in terms of cleanliness and pollution, which will ensure the preservation of natural beauty. Initiatives such as TREK would help protect the beautiful tourist sites like Kumrat Valley, which otherwise would also be devastated due to unplanned tourism and constructions.
KP province is leading the government’s tourism drive, opening up new destinations for domestic and international tourists, so it is essential that they work with stakeholders such as the World Bank Group, Nestlé and others to strengthen these efforts to create livelihood opportunities and effectively address the issues faced by the tourism sector including waste management as was stated by the Chief Minister of KP, Mahmood Khan, as well.
Nestlé Global, as part of its global initiative, recently announced its vision on achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 for the company. In Pakistan, it is working on several environmental interests in this particular case helping TREK to make Pakistan more eco-friendly. Samer Chedid, CEO, Nestlé Pakistan said, “As part of our vision for a waste-free future, we are accelerating our actions to tackle plastic waste and our partnership with WBG & KP government is a step in that direction. We will be driving new behavior and understanding through community engagement, cleanup activities, trainings and connecting waste recycling companies with the local administration.”
For Pakistan, tourism many believe will help pull the country out of its economic misery, but, unfortunately, unplanned tourism has destroyed Pakistan’s natural beauty, and it seems that everywhere tourists go, heaps of garbage and litter accompany them. This is what happened to the once scenic and sparkling town of Murree, now a concrete jungle swarming with tourists – Murree’s constructed area has risen by 22% in the last 19 years.
The main tourist attractions are somehow kept clean by the authorities, but the streets adjoining the main roads are filled with garbage with no proper mechanism for waste disposal. In addition to this, the absence of water infrastructure has resulted in the contamination of underground water.
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According to the International Ecotourism Society, a Florida based NGO, the tourism model should be such that local population benefits from it – sadly in Murree, the local population cannot even access the facilities provided to the tourists as they come with a hefty price tag. What Pakistan needs to learn is to enjoy nature without destroying it and in this regard, TREK is being seen as the first ray of hope for the tourist attractions of Pakistan.
Ecotourism engulfs an idea of tourism, which promotes conservation of environment while enjoying natural areas along with the sustenance of local communities and their culture. It focuses on educating both the hosts and tourists to promote ethical tourism. The tourism sector has been developing for the past many decades and went hand in hand with the globalization of the world.
Najy Benhassine, Country Director for World Bank Group (WBG) Pakistan has mentioned the importance of more involvement by corporates contributing to responsible tourism across the country. He has also highlighted the sectors ability to provide employment opportunities to the youth. At the Trek launching ceremony, he supported the prime minister’s belief that “the growth and job creation potential of this sector is massive.”
Looking back to 2019, the year marked the rebirth of tourism in Pakistan, during which many milestones were achieved. Pakistan made top of the list for best tourism travel destination for Condé Nast Travellers list. Youtubers and filmmakers from around the globe visited Pakistan and shared their experience with the world; this put Pakistan back on the map for tourism.
The cherry on top proved to be the royal couple visit towards the end of the year. 2020 saw coronavirus hit the tourism industry hard throughout the world, however, with 2021 and vaccine around the corner, Pakistan can restart its push towards attracting tourists and initiatives like Trek are crucial in ensuring eco-sustainable tourism is developed.