Pakistan is full of natural resources,having the best agricultural land, in the region. If resources are tapped properly, they can contribute largely in increasing the income of the common man.
By utilizing these resources we not only generate income but also provide opportunities for the unemployed and boost the economy at the same time. Successive governments have been trying to promote agriculture and industry, but little if any work has been done in one sector. This sector which has been ignored totally and ill- managed to date is none other than, tourism. Tourism sector, will not only generate resources for the country, offer job opportunities, and above all, most importantly, portray a softer image of Pakistan, globally. If given a nurturing environment to grow with encouraging policies, it can go a long way in stabilizing the economy. Countries like Switzerland, Nepal and Tunisia thrive on cultivating their tourist places to generate income and revenue.
Pakistan,I feel has more to offer, our untapped beauty in the North, is unparallel to anything. Pakistan offers picturesque attractions for tourists, from; historical buildings, to forts, to cultural events and eateries to the most scenic and picturesque landscape located in the middle of Himalayas, Karakorum and Hindu Kush. There is a Ministry of Tourism, in Islamabad, with its four provincial wings in all provinces of the country.Unfortunately,no concrete efforts were made to promote this sector, in the past three decades. Long ago there used to be a boom of tourism in the country, solely due to the efforts of the private entrepreneurs, whose businesses have either shut down, or, surviving at the lowest ebb.
The downfall can be attributed to the apathyon the part of the government in offering patronage and the ever deteriorating security conditions everywhere in the country. If there was a strong support system by the government, tourism could be revived again but onlyif there is conviction on the part of the government. We can divide and subdivide tourism into different categories; urban and rural, being the major ones. In the urban category, we have the historical buildings, the forts, the architecturally acclaimed gardens, beautiful agricultural landscape, socio cultural events and traditional food. The rural tourism incorporates mountaineering, mountainous terrains, cultural tours, historical trade routes, local ethnic tribal attractions, trekking, hiking and Eco-tourism.
In some rural areas also we may find historical buildings, such as forts etc. Tourists can generally be divided in two main categories, i.e., International tourists and local tourists. Due to security issues the foreign tourists are now discouraged to visit our country, which is very disappointing but on the other hand prompts us to promote local tourism. The local tourist may not be interested in mountaineering, as seen by the trend so far, but, sightseeing, is what they may be interested in and is one area, which can be focused and developed, if the government formulates favorable policies. The dilemma, which we face as citizens of Pakistan, is that we live here but we do not explore our own country.
If proper promotion takes place, rural areas, especially, can attract a large number of local tourists. The question is not who would do the work; rather, it is how it can be and should be done. Here are some personal thoughts based upon my experience of working in the sector, for a while which could help us revive tourism in, Pakistan. One area, which I think has been neglected, is the cultural eco tourism sector. What is basically cultural eco tourism? Eco tourism is a form of tourism involving visiting fragile, pristine and natural locations in order to make the visitor understand the impact of us humans on the environment. It is aimed at empowerment of the local communities so that they should take care of the natural resources keeping in mind the ecological factor and generate income for themselves.
There is a famous slogan the proponents of Eco tourism often use which explains the process quite aptly, “Take only photographs, leave only foot prints”. This type of tourism aims to have minimum impact on the local environment and efforts are made to raise the income of the locality by devising different types of activities for the visiting tourists. This may include nature walks, stay in a local house, eat traditional food, and get the rare experience of living in the same house with the host in their house thus help the local community to raise their standard of life. This type of tourism offers many benefits to the tourists also.
Firstly, they are safe as the local community welcomes them. They get an insight of the village life; it gives them more time to know about the culture, area and food. It also cost them less, than, an arranged tour with a large group.
Lately, the people of Chitral and Northern Areas have realized the importance of cultural Eco tourism and have started running Village Small Guest houses and Home Stays. These people do not have any government patronage, they do not have sufficient funds available to promote their product, and thus they wait for the walk in visitor, who once in a blue moon appears,if he manages to escape from the clutches of the devious drivers cum tour operators. If they could be promoted in big cities, such as Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, it will attract more visitors to their homestays and guesthouses. It will also help revive tourism in the country, as slowly and gradually people would come out of their comfort zones, where they have been cocooning out of the fear of security reasons.
Chitral and Northern Areas and to some extent Swat also, are the most peaceful areas, of the country. Even the war on terror did not hit Chitral, mainly, because the people of Chitral are peaceful and refuse to foster terrorism. The government must take initiative to promote the cause of Eco-tourism, among the local tourists, if it cannot do so for the international tourists. The media houses can also air pro ecotourism programs. Private operators can also explore the opportunities to arrange cultural eco tours for the local tourists. We need to build the confidence of the international communities and Cultural Eco tourism is one such tool, which if used properly, can bring a good name and revenue to Pakistan.
Author: Saifuddin Saif