The World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated on the 5th of June every year, and is the United Nation’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our environment. … WED has grown to become a global platform for public outreach, with participation from over 143 countries annually.
As Country formulates its strategy to develop the Tourism & Hospitality industry, to become a critical economic driver, policymakers are slowly coming to realize that they need to incorporate the phenomenon of ecotourism and sustainability into their plans. The Prime Minister, one of its strongest proponents, has given a loud and clear message to his team to focus on ecotourism and sustainability.
Ecotourism is a popular buzz word in Pakistan right now, and everyone knows it is required, but it means different things to different people. The fact that people are talking about the concept is a significant step, but most entrepreneurs and businesses are stuck on building hotels, Apps, or business models without a real understanding of what ecotourism encompasses. The herd mentality prevalent means if one person opens a Chai Khanna, everyone starts opening a Chai Khanna, and if a Chinese restaurant opens in town, ten other individuals want to open a similar kind, just because the first one that opened was profitable in a short period.
The same seems to be the case with talk on ecotourism. In my recent interactions across Pakistan with stakeholders, from the government to the hospitality industry, everyone is speaking about the sustainability of the tourism sector, without any understanding of what it means. The tourism potential in the country and especially the Northern areas is no hidden fact. The landscape, the unique cultural heritage, and the hospitable people of the country create a competitive advantage in attracting tourists.
So, the challenge is not how to identify the tourism potential in Pakistan, but to consider how tourism can help conserve this unique natural and cultural heritage and at the same time improve the quality of life for people. To understand how ecotourism may help to achieve this potential, we need to understand what do we mean by sustainable tourism, and what connects sustainable tourism and ecotourism.
According to the World Commission on the Environment and Development, sustainable development ‘is the economic growth that is socially and environmentally sustainable, based on policies that both sustain and expand the environmental resource base.’ Experts define this as a ‘link between tourism, the environment, and sustainability within a framework of community-based development.’ Under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030; three relate to sustainable development under the tourism sector. SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all; SDG 12: Sustainable consumption and production and SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
The social and natural environments are the primary resources for both tourism and development; our goal should be to preserve and expand these resources. Green tourism can be applied to all types of tourism that contributes to viable development, whether it is leisure expedition, business, or adventure travel.
The initiatives taken by the PTI government to promote and discuss ecotourism is commendable, but we have a long way to go to achieve its sustainable objectives.The development of a sustainable ecotourism industry requires a planned approach that recognizes and addresses environmental and social impacts as part of its overall strategy for growth of Country.
Without an overarching strategy and plan for tourism development opportunities, and the economy built upon them, ecotourism will remain a mere buzz word for articles and social media posts. Only a thoughtful approach to ecotourism, involving local communities will add sustainability, dimension, and depth to the economy.