It was at its third session held at Torremolinos, Spain in September 1979 that the UNWTO General Assembly decided to institute World Tourism Day, commencing in the year 1980. This date was chosen to coincide with an important milestone in world tourism, the anniversary of the adoption of the UNWTO Statutes on 27 September 1970.
The timing of World Tourism Day is particularly appropriate in that it comes at the end of the high season in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of the season in the southern hemisphere. But unfortunately, this year, in the presence of tourism enemy Covid-19, we celebrate the day bit sadly.
The sudden cessation of international tourism as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world’s largest employer to a standstill, with widespread hardship following in its wake. It is hard to overestimate the impact of Covid-19 on tourism. It is harder still to overstate the impact on those countries, regions and resorts that are heavily dependent on foreign visitors. From the beaches of Florida, Maldives Pattaya, Bali and Fiji, to the Safari parks of Kenya and South Africa, the impact has been devastating. According to my observation and assessment, this is the worst tourism crisis ever in human history.
This year, the Day’s theme, “Tourism and Rural Development” is very relevant to Pakistan. The decision to focus on rural development from the perspective of tourism particularly in this time in view of the deeply rooted and emerging critical factors like urbanization, crowed cities and issue of Covid-19 which demands distancing, less crowd, ecofriendly and sustainable tourism.
Rural tourism is tourism that takes place in the ‘countryside’, but what constitutes the ‘countryside’ varies significantly between, and even within, countries. Pakistan’s rural areas are replete with great beauty and diversity. Tourism in the country is heavily based upon the outstanding landscape, culture, heritage and dramatic mountain scenery of rural areas of GB, which have unique cultural and archaeological heritage. Tourism opportunities here are diverse ranging from mountaineering, trekking, sightseeing, sports tourism and trophy hunting. It is stated that more than 50% of the international and domestic tourists arrived in Pakistan to visit rural areas of Gilgit- Baltistan, resultantly in summer season the tourist destinations in the areas remain under pressure of mismanaged, poorly organized and uncontrolled overtourism.
Though for optimal economic gains for the locals and for the country at large, the tourism in the areas is needed to be developed in an ecologically, environmentally and culturally friendly manner.
This is admitted fact that demand for rural tourism is directly related to the specific characteristics of rural areas such as location, physical environment etc. and that the principle motivation of tourists for visiting the countryside is to experience ‘rurality’.
The desired objectives of peace, security, social advancement and inclusion cannot be reached if we neglect the joint commitment to ensure that everyone has dignified, fair, free employment.
Rural development and rural tourism can play an important role in the fight against poverty, from the financial as well as the social and cultural viewpoints. Travelling provides an opportunity to become acquainted with different places and situations and to realize what a great gap exists between the rich and poor areas of Pakistan. It is also possible to make a better use of local resources and activities, fostering the involvement of the poorer classes of the population.
To promote remote and rural tourists destinations in Pakistan, there has been significant development in infrastructure in the past few years. Focus has been laid upon the construction of important roads and highways to boost road travel. Previously inaccessible destinations of rural areas of Punjab, Baluchistan and KP are now easily accessible to tourists traveling by road, massively boosting rural tourism.
Furthermore, the governments, Federal or provincials has had a huge role to play in the sustainable and ecofriendly rural tourism in Pakistan. This is also an admitted fact that the delicate relationship between physical environment, local culture and society, and rural tourism is not easy to manage and can result in environmental degradation, community disengagement and uneven development. There should be no exploitation of labor in poor rural areas that are highly committed to tourism due to their rich environmental and historical heritage, where the native people rarely benefit from the use of their local resources. Likewise, unacceptable are the acts of violence against the host populations, the abuses against their cultural identity and all activities that cause degradation and unbridled exploitation of the environment. Some rural regions of Pakistan have seen an influx of new wealthy residents from urban and semi-urban areas who seek leisure and relaxation in the countryside, a form of rural gentrification. These changes have affected the cohesion, environment beauty and vitality of many rural communities.
The present government aims at developing good rural infrastructure and promoting cultural and heritage value of the country. But for development of infrastructure the private sector has to play important role. Our mostly rural youth have either no or less knowledge for e travel and tourism sector and practical skills. Therefore, there is a dearth of skilled travel and hospitality employees to fulfil the numerous new job which expending tourism activities in rural area of Pakistan can offer. The government and educational institutes now need to focus on tourism skill-building education for youth of rural areas.
A striking feature for rural areas across Pakistan has been the pace and rate of change. So careful planning, monitoring and very effective management is needed by the governments to ensure that the environment and local communities are not harmed by rural tourism development, but rather benefit from such processes. If rural tourism is to be championed by governments, tourism organizations, hoteliers, tour operators and other tourism stakeholders need a fully debated tourism mechanism, mechanism of keeping check on cleanliness, waste-management and unnecessary and unplanned steel-cement R.C.C. big structure everywhere around environmentally very sensitive tourist destinations of these rural areas.
As an ardent and devoted Pakistanis and being a Chief Editor of Pakistan’s oldest weekly newspaper of travel and tourism industry, I had always imagined a time when Pakistan would be back on the global Tourism platform, and its prospects of becoming one of the top tourist destinations in the world would seem to be realistic and not some far-fetched notion. Earlier I was thinking that time is now drawing closer but now after Covid-19 again we have to wait for some time more to see and enjoy the hey days of tourism Pakistan. But still I have unflinching faith and believe that Pakistan can truly unleash its potential as one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world.