Tourism is often seen as a useful strategy for many poorer countries who lack a manufacturing base and are over-reliant on primary (agricultural) exports. Tourism is seen as a way of boosting gross domestic product (GDP) of nations and of lessening their dependency on aid and loans. As terrorism recedes in Pakistan, tourism appears to be on the rise, with more than thrice the number of international tourists travelling to the country in 2016 as compared to just three years ago, as reported by Bloomberg. Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) data showed that international tourists have more than tripled since 2013 to 1.75 million in 2016, while domestic travelers have jumped 30 per cent to 38.3m, the report said. While these are very positive signs for tourism, however, we must pay heed to the sustainable development of the tourism industry to ensure environmental conservation.
Many ventures have been taken up by global organizations for this very purpose, giving rise to the term: ‘Ecotourism’. According to Wikipedia, ‘Ecotourism is a form of tourism involving visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas, intended as a low-impact and often small scale alternative to standard commercial mass tourism. It means responsible travel to natural areas conserving the environment and improving the well-being of the local people. Its purpose may be to educate the traveler, to provide funds for ecological conservation, to directly benefit the economic development and political empowerment of local communities, or to foster respect for different cultures and for human rights. Since the 1980s, ecotourism has been considered a critical endeavor by environmentalists, so that future generations may experience destinations relatively untouched by human intervention.’ This perfectly sums up the essence of Ecotourism. Several university programs use this description as the working definition of ecotourism.
Ecotourism focuses on socially responsible travel and environmental conservation. Ecotourism programs include programs that minimize the negative aspects of ‘conventional tourism’, including those on the environment and the local communities. Recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation and creation of economic opportunities for the locals are seen as integral parts of ecotourism.
Ecotourism may, sometimes, involve guides who are employed by visitors. Such guides ensure the implementation of the principles surrounding ecotourism. As these guides may be locals, they provide further job opportunities. In addition, an ecotourist is different from a tourist in the sense that, he or she is mindful of his environment, in most cases contributing to the sustainability of such surroundings. Thus, the success of such programs largely depends on the mindset of the tourists.
Ecotourism has huge potential in Pakistan. Ecotourism Society Pakistan (ESP) is an organization based in Pakistan which seeks to promote ecotourism in the mountain eco-regions of Pakistan as a way of raising the standard of living in those areas. Such organisations must be promoted and supported in order to ensure that the tourism industry can grow in a way that only benefits our country and its economy.