ECO-TOURISM IN PAKISTAN 1
The increased globalization and the eradication of travel barriershave increased the number of people traveling for pleasure. Thesustainability of tourism lies in the protection of the areas thatattract people. Countries across the world have been implementingpolicies that aim at protecting the attraction sites and drawing anadditional number of tourists. Pakistan gained independence in 1947.Isar et al. (2009) indicate that, Pakistan has been consistentlydeveloping its economy although it is a young country when comparedto its neighbors. It borders Russia, China, Tajikistan, Afghanistanand India. By this virtue, the country shares many physical featureswith its neighboring countries. The features make it a destinationfor many tourists (Isar et al., 2009).
Ecologically, Pakistan has five areas that attract eco-tourists. Theyinclude the mountainous sceneries in the North, the BaluchistanPlateau, Potohar Plateau, the plains of Punjab and Sindh and theexpansive desert of Thar. The warm temperate zone in Pakistansupports the growth of different plant species and animals. Inaddition, the administrative structure of Pakistan is important inthe management of the ecotourism zones. The structure consists ofprovinces and administrative areas. They include the FederallyAdministered Tribal Areas, the Northern Areas, Punjib Sindh, TheNorth West Frontier Province and Azad Kamir. The government exercisesauthority in the protection of tourist attraction sites.
Across the globe, eco-tourism forms the bulk of all the travels forpleasure. The United Nations Environmental Program defineseco-tourism as the protection of natural species and sceneries, whileat the same time enjoying their existence. the growth of eco-tourismis estimated to have a consistent growth of 4% per annum in the world(Karim et al., 2013). Its worth in 2014, as outlined by Karim et al.(2013), was 15 billion dollars. According to Karim et al. (2013), thedecision of the Pakistan’s government to invest in sustainableecotourism is viable. Hospitality industry, tourism in particular,has played a pivotal role in enhancing the economic development ofthe country in spite of, the threat of political instability andnatural phenomena. The government efforts to revive it will seeeco-tourism stimulate the economy of Pakistan. The tourists estimateindicate a projected increase of 10% of the number of visitorsarriving in the country, to reach 850, 000 visitors by 2017 (Karim etal., 2013).
Pakistan has a wealth of national parks that attract severaleco-tourists. In the country, a national park is an outstanding areahailed for its scenic beauty. In total, the government has 14national parks with the major ones being Hingol, Kirthar, Khunjerab,Chitra Gol, Hazarganji, Margalla, Ayuiba, Deosai and Machiara (Kausaret al., 2014). The government and the non-profit authorities keep awatchful eye on the flora and fauna in the various national parks.However, despite the protection, the parks are open to the public forrecreation, research and education purposes. Karim et al. (2013)indicate that the government of Pakistan has rolled out a plan torenovate the roads in the national parks to facilitate access to thesites. Hunting of wild animals is prohibited, as well as, interferingwith animals by firing guns. Members of the public, organizations andother parties may not clear or cultivate protected areas. However,the authorities may allow specific activities for scientific andresearch purposes.
Game reserves also form an important facet of tourism in Pakistan. Inthe country, a game reserve is defined as an area set aside for theprotection of wildlife. There is a regulated public access to thereserves, and the government does not permit any activity thatnegatively exploits the land. The major game reserves and sanctuariesinclude Kilik, Tooshi, Kargah, Astor, Chasma, Choolistan and Hub Dam(Karim et al., 2013).
Additionally, the Ministry of Environment Protection hasidentified several wetlands for protection, although, Pakistan ispredominantly semi-arid. The regions include the coastal mangroveforests, the mudflats located in the Indus Delta Complex and theglacial lakes of the Himalayas. The total wetland area isapproximately 7, 800,000 hectares. According to Adnan Hye et al.(2013), the wetlands are also sources of food and livelihoods to thecitizens who live close to them, apart from being tourists’attraction sites. Citizens depend on them for grazing, fuel,transport, energy generation and transport. The local communities areimportant stakeholders in the protection of these sites. The majorwetland areas include Hleji, Zangi, Uchali, Rawal and the Indus Delta(Adnan Hye et al., 2013).
There are several bottlenecks to the development of eco-tourism inPakistan. The primary aim of the government, and other parties withan interest in tourism, is attaining sustainability of eco-tourism.However, not all parties support the idea, and they take advantage ofthe loopholes in the policies to perpetrate activities that scareaware tourists. Challenges along the way cripple the efforts ofreviving tourism despite that the ministry of tourism is implementingcorrective measures.
According to Adnan Hye et al. (2013), policy formulation is a majorobstacle in the promotion of eco-tourism in the country. In Pakistan,there are no systems dedicated to the protection of the identifiedareas. Unlike in America, United Kingdom and other developedcountries with model systems that work efficiently towards theprotection of the flora and fauna, Pakistan lacks a streamlinedsystem that is entirely dedicated for a similar purpose. Most of thenational parks and wetlands are located in the northern area of thecountry. Therefore, the different ecosystems present a challenge incoordinating their protection together with the ones found in otherparts of the country (Kausar et al., 2015). The authority of thegovernment extends to all these areas, but since there are fewpolicies for the protection of wildlife, there are varied illegalpractices in the parks.
Additionally, the non-governmental organizations have offered theirinput in promoting the eco-tourism by creating awareness on thereduction pollution. They have been credited for involving governmentagencies in their practices. For example, the non-governmentalorganizations spearheaded a major campaign in the Non-use ofPlastic Bags, especially, in the protected areas (Karim et al.,2013). They have also compelled government organizations to introducepolicies towards the corrective actions, but with little success. Oneof the successful government policies enacted due to pressure fromthe non-government agencies is the Pakistan EnvironmentalProtection Ordinance, passed in 1983 (Karim et al., 2013). Thelaw allowed the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) that became operational in Punjab and curbed dumping in publicsites and protected areas. Most of the NGOs operate on stringentbudgets due to the limitation of their actions consequently, theyhave not achieved their desired goals of promoting eco-tourism.Another major blow to their well-intended actions is the lack ofgovernment support through legislations.
Security is also a major concern in Pakistan and it has negativeeffects on eco-tourism. Individuals traveling for pleasure make anumber of considerations before they settle for their finaldestinations. Areas mauled by insecurity do not feature on theirlist. Raza and Jawaid (2013) indicate that some countries also givetravel advisories to their citizens to avoid some areas that areperceived as threats. The insurgency experienced in the Northern partof the country discourages tourist from visiting the parks andreserves (Raza & Jawaid, 2013). Areas with attractive scenerieslike Baluchistan and Sindh are hubs of insurgents who targetforeigners. In 2013, 4 foreign mountaineers were killed in Baltistan.The Western media amplified the incident, and prospective touristsdeveloped a negative attitude towards visiting the country’sNorthern areas. The effect resonated to the other protected areasthat recorded a decreased number of eco-tourist. There are variedgovernment efforts to ensure the security of the locals and theforeigners. The government has been intensifying the capacity of theprovincial security units. According to Raza and Jawaid (2013), theinternal efforts have borne fruits. However, they have been under themockery of external threats. Pakistan borders Afghanistan, and theneighbor has been in a constant war ensuing between the governmentforces and the rebels. The insurgents who infiltrate the bordersusually extend their terrorism acts inside Pakistan. The borderpatrol unit of Pakistan has heightened the security along the border.However, the threat posed by the terrorists remains a factor ofconsideration by many eco-tourists.
Besides the threat of insecurity, eco-tourism in Pakistan suffersfrom poor infrastructure. There is a poor road network connecting thedifferent ecological zones. Tourists find it difficult to visitseveral places efficiently. Most of the attractive sceneries,plateaus, wetlands and mountains are located in the northern region(Israr et al., 2009). The provincial administration cannoteffectively upgrade the infrastructure of these areas without theinput of the national government. The stringent budget that thecountry operates on only allows a meager a percentage of the budgetto be dedicated to the construction of roads and power networks. Theamount of money that trickles to the construction of roads within thenational parks and reserves is not enough to seal the existing gaps(Israr et al., 2009).
Another challenge facing eco-tourism in Pakistan is poor promotion inthe international market. In 2006, UNESCO ranked Pakistan 74thout of 124 in countries that promote ecotourism (Baloch et al.,2015). The public institutions have frail efforts to brand and marketthe attractive sites found in the country. Promotion of tourism inthe country has been the responsibility of the private sector. Theprivate sector including the hotels and transport businesses has notbeen aggressive in marketing their services to the internationalclients in countries. The presence of a platform for the private andpublic sector partnership in the promotion of eco-tourism, thereparties have shared goals for development. According to Isar et al.(2015), the government cannot satisfy the needs of the eco-tourists,and it has to involve the private investors. The hotels and travelservice providers aim at increasing the number of clients who seektheir services. They engage in a healthy competition as dictated bythe policy environments. They compete to offer quality services, andthis attracts a more clients (Isar et al., 2015). The taxes they paycontribute to economic development and the creation of employment.Pakistan has a poor platform for the two sectors. The efforts of thepublic sectors are not effective enough bto compete in theinternational arena.
Since 2007, Pakistan has been experiencing a drop in the number oftourists visiting the country. The lack of preference for the countrydespite its outstanding sceneries and species is due to theunfavorable environment for eco-tourists. According to Raza andJawaid (2013), the poor road network in the northern region and thepoor visibility of the countries eco-tourism in the internationalarena are primary causes of the problem. However, there are prospectsthat depict the expected growth of eco-tourism
First, the investment in the private sector in eco-tourism hasincreased to Rs.40 billion (Raza & Jawaid, 2013). Although theinvestment can be limited by the poor policy environment andinadequate infrastructure, it is likely to attract the support of thenational government. More than Rs.40million has been allocated toongoing projects to improve the quality of services in hotels locatedin Astak, Kalay, Baran, Bay, Bunni and Chamman. The private sectorprojects that the number of hotels will increase to 1,711 with 39,114 rooms (Raza & Jawaid, 2013). The private sector has alsoextended a proposal to the government to offer incentives toinvestors who establish rest rooms in parks and historical sites.
According to Anwar and Zea (2012), the Ministry of Tourism and HumanResource Development and the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporationhas identified the need for institutional and human resourcedevelopment. There is an identified gap in the services offered tothe tourists by both the public and private sector. The number ofreturning tourists highly depends on the services they receive duringtheir first visit. The deteriorating hospitality services may explainthe consistent drop in the number of tourists visiting Pakistan(Anwar & Zea, 2012). The Ministry of Tourism also points out thatit will strengthen the hotel management and training institutions inthe country to give them the capacity of producing skilled manpower. According to Anwar and Zea (2012), the current annual training needfor skilled hotel workers is about 3,000 against the current annualtraining of only 500. The ministry has introduced a new syllabus toall the training institutions through the concerted private sectortraining initiative. The program also involves the provision ofnecessary materials, training personnel and equipping the libraries.The move will strengthen the country’s eco-tourism at both localand the international domains.
Another key prospect that will catapult the growth of eco-tourism isthe creation of awareness to the members of the public who rely onnatural resources that attract eco-tourists for their livelihood. AsBaloch and Rehman (2015) observe, a country achieves sustainableeco-tourism if it strikes a balance between attracting people to viewthem as well as integrating the local communities in theirprotection. The citizens who live near the wetlands, rivers and thebeach derive their livelihoods from what these natural features haveto offer. The public-private partnership consisting of the Ministryof Environmental Protection, Ministry of Tourism and non-governmentalorganizations have campaigns that create awareness for people toexploit the environment sustainably (Baloch & Rehman, 2015).
In conclusion, eco-tourism forms an important part of the PakistaniEconomy. Eco-tourists visit the country to enjoy the plateaus,rivers, glaciers, plains, national parks and game reserves. TheNorthern part of the country harbors most of the national parks andgame reserves. There are various challenges plaguing the eco-tourismindustry, including, poor infrastructure linking the Northern regionwith the tourists’ destinations and poor policy development. Thegovernment through its Ministry of Tourism does not have friendlypolicies to promote ecotourism. However, the measures the governmenthas instituted aim at increasing the number of skilled workers in thehotel industry and integrating the local communities in conservationefforts. In the near future eco-tourism in Pakistan will feature inthe international arena and contribute to the economic development ofthe country.
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