Thank you, Holiday Weekly for this opportunity to air my views.
I feel that in Pakistan the potential for tourism and rural development go hand-in-hand. Much has been said over the years, and particularly since Covid-19 of the vast natural beauty that Pakistan has to offer, right from its mountainous northern areas down to its coastline in the south. But, the one thing rarely discussed, and which we need to concentrate on now, more than ever, both from the government standpoint, and from that of the private sector, and indeed the individual tourists visiting our pristine rural areas, is responsible rural tourism.
The need of the hour is to encourage eco-friendly projects in our rural areas so that the natural beauty for which they are known is not compromised by steel and mortar eye-sores, and people can visit these areas for their quintessential offerings, like cottages made of mud, bamboo, and limestone. Everywhere in the world, the natural fauna and foliage in rural areas are protected, and accommodations are in keeping with the surroundings so as to blend with them and also provide a unique experience to the traveler. We tend to overlook that and have lost the magnificent trees and amazing vistas that places like Shogran, Naran, Kaghan, Murree, and many more had to offer, which have been replaced by congested high-rises on the pretext of rural development.
What’s more, our purpose at this point in time should be two-fold – not just to improve the overall economy of the country by converting tourism into a major industry, but also, in the process improve the living standards and livelihoods of the people living in these rural areas by creating income-generating avenues for them. Residents of rural areas should be provided free training by the government in the various areas of the service industry connected with hospitality, tourism, and hotel management, and once trained, should be provided licenses so that they can offer services that are at par with their counterparts internationally. A system of monitoring and fining should also be put in place. Proper enforcement of these policies will also ensure jobs for a large sector of our unemployed youth.
Cleanliness and waste management is another aspect that will need to be taken up with a vengeance if tourism is to be encouraged in rural areas for no one is interested in visiting filthy villages and small towns, no matter how beautiful the distant landscape may be. Again, the locals of the area will have to be trained in cleanliness, and authorized to fine littering visitors, and a system developed so that the waste is collected and deposited in landfills and not dumped in lakes, volcanoes, and glaciers, among other unthinkable sites – yes, I have been a witness to this at each of these touristy attractions that our country boasts of!
So, while our rural areas have a lot of potential for tourism, the development of these areas in the right direction is a must if we truly want to see them progress without losing their identity.