COVID presents Pakistan probability to concentrate on ecotourism | Asia| An in-depth take a look at information from throughout the continent | DW

Pakistan has become one of the most sought after travel destinations in recent years. The South Asian nation topped several international travel lists, including Forbes’ “The 10 Coolest Places in 2019” and Conde Nast’s “Best Vacation Destination in 2020”.

The Pakistani government and people hoped that the development would attract more investment in tourism-related businesses and help create better-paying jobs.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government announced plans to develop and promote tourism and ease visa restrictions on foreign travelers.

However, the onset of a global health emergency and the resulting restrictions on global travel have derailed the government’s plans.

“Due to COVID, we were unable to implement the government’s tourism strategy last year,” Babar Javaid, communications manager at Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC), told DW.

“Tourism is a priority area for this government,” he said, highlighting the sector’s significant contribution to economic activity, direct investment and poverty reduction.

High global interest in travel to Pakistan

In recent years, travel bloggers have flocked to Pakistan, drawn to the country’s high peaks, lush valleys, and rich heritage.

The content they produced and posted on social media contributed to the surge in global interest.

Your promotion of Pakistan as a travel destination has been a comfort to a population that has experienced decades of military raids, terrorist violence and political instability.

Eva Zu Beck, a British-Polish traveler and content creator, is arguably the most famous vlogger to promote travel to Pakistan. She even believes the country could be the world’s top tourist destination.

Zu Beck has over 551,000 followers on Instagram and more than 905,000 channel subscribers on YouTube. Some of her videos about Pakistan have been viewed a million times.

Tourism has negative side effects

“With Pakistan’s tourism there is this gold rush feeling where everyone is excited about the economic opportunities without really thinking about the big picture of how sustainable tourism can be supported in the country,” she told DW.

She pointed out the nation’s fragile ecosystems, particularly in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, and stressed the need for sustainability.

Zu Beck noted that she noticed a shift during her travels to Pakistan and that newly erected gray concrete structures contrasted sharply with the traditional architecture and beauty of the valleys.

The world-renowned travel blogger believes COVID is an opportunity for the Pakistani government to promote sustainable tourism.

“This is indeed a really important opportunity for the Pakistani government to take advantage of this ‘break’ in tourism and develop infrastructure for the benefit of travelers, local communities and the environment,” said Zu Beck. “Then the country will be able to cope better with the influx of tourists in the future.”

Because of the country’s fragile ecosystems, more emphasis should be placed on sustainability, experts say

Climate change and a threat to ecosystems

Experts and NGOs have increasingly warned that uncontrolled tourism can exacerbate climate change and threaten fragile ecosystems.

They call for the promotion of ecotourism. “Ecotourism is about addressing the negative effects of tourism by actively engaging and giving benefits to the community,” Ali Nawaz, director of the Snow Leopard Foundation, told DW.

“They are the stewards of these ecosystems and only they can really protect them,” he added, emphasizing that ecotourism helps ensure economic development while protecting the ecology.

Nawaz also pointed out that wildlife sightings and activities increased in their project areas during the COVID crisis. “Wildlife is dynamic and influenced by human activity. We saw more brown bear activity in Deosai Plains as there were fewer cars. The pandemic has shown the world how nature can thrive when people are more respectful.”

On ecotourism, PTDC’s Javaid said Prime Minister Imran Khan will launch a plan this year to address the negative side effects of increasing tourism.

Locals hit by tourism

Shamim Bano, 45, mother of four, has worked for Korgah, a small, women-run carpet factory, since 1998.

She said she used to make around 200 euros a month, money that was mainly used for her children’s education.

But the pandemic temporarily halted the influx of foreign tourists and brought Korgah’s business to a standstill by depriving it of a significant proportion of its customers.

“Now travelers are slowly coming back and things are picking up speed. But we don’t know when this health crisis will end, so the future still seems uncertain,” Bano told DW.

“For poor communities like us, we depend on tourism, so we don’t want any more lockdowns, but we want help,” said Bano.

Mehnaz Parveen, CEO of the Karakoram Area Development Organization, told DW that around 70% of residents in the Hunza Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan depend, either directly or indirectly, on tourism for a living.

“We have therefore launched an online platform to promote e-commerce and the online sale of handicrafts,” said Parveen, adding: “We have to invest in our beautiful places if we want to continue to live in them.”

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