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Promoting Responsible Tourism in Pakistan’s North

November 21, 2023

World Tourism Day honoured the private sector’s contribution to the growth of environmentally conscious travel this year. The World Bank’s tourism sector interventions in Pakistan are in line with that goal and will keep advancing responsible tourism, public-private partnerships, community economic inclusion, and the resilience and competitiveness of the private sector.

Muhammad Numan saw as a child that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s tourism attractions had a more pristine, natural setting. But as time went on and tourists increased, the familiar local scenery started to shift. The increase in visitors has led to an increasing amount of trash accumulating on the usually picturesque locations in the north.

In 2022, the travel and tourism industry generated 4.2 million employment and contributed 5.9% of Pakistan’s GDP. Considering the variety of tourism destinations spread out over the nation, this is not ideal. Pakistan is expected to receive approximately US$ 30 billion in visitor expenditure by 2033, up from approximately US$ 16 billion in 2022.

Following the lifting of the travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19, Pakistan had an unparalleled upsurge in domestic tourism. In 2021 and 2022, for example, nearly 1.2 million tourists from both domestic and foreign sources visited the country’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The local government, communities, and commercial sector need resources, equipment, and training to manage the growing number of visitors throughout the year while utilising their underutilised economic potential. All of this must be done without sacrificing their commitment to sustainable and inclusive tourism.

Numan, who is currently employed as a manager at a nearby hotel in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Swat province, was determined to change and looked for ways to lessen the harm that the tourism sector was causing to the environment. At that point, he learned about the “Travel Responsibly for Experiencing Eco-tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa” (TREK) initiative, which is an effort to promote and support eco-tourism efforts in the region. It is a collaboration between Nestlé Pakistan, the World Bank (WB), and the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Integrated Tourism Development Project (KITE) project’s ongoing efforts to promote tourism infrastructure and preserve cultural assets are enhanced by TREK. It has finished visitor awareness programmes and provided trash management training to nearby communities and hospitality establishments since 2020. In the tourism areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, TREK has taught over 650 participants from over 150 hotels and restaurants. The Peshawar, Nathiagali, Abbottabad, Swat, Naran, and Chitral districts’ local people, government agencies, and academic institutions were also among the beneficiaries.

Techniques for managing, recycling, and minimising solid waste were the main topics of these trainings. Additionally, social media and radio campaigns were used to spread public service announcements about responsible tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamabad, and Lahore. Due to the concentration of the majority of the nation’s domestic tourists in these areas, information regarding the significance of maintaining litter-free tourist sites can be obtained by calling tourist helplines.

Ten thousand reusable bags were given out to visitors and the hotel association in popular tourist areas with the intention of promoting their use and reducing trash. In parallel, the IDA-financed KITE project provided waste bins, garbage collection and compacting machinery to the local authorities in Nathiagali, Naran, Chitral and Kumrat districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and a few locations in Punjab province, and installed 50 tourist information signboards to complement the awareness campaigns.

Incorporating the knowledge from these seminars, like several other participants, Numan established eco-friendly procedures at his hotel. In addition, he is the leader of a neighbourhood cleanup project in his hometown of Mardan area. Residents now actively participate in regular clean-up drives, demonstrating how this programme has evolved into a community-driven endeavour. These long-term changes perfectly capture the spirit of TREK’s vision for communities across the province and beyond.

Through fostering partnerships with the private sector, TREK has accelerated its partners’ efforts towards meaningful projects. Nestlé Pakistan, a partner in the programme, is implementing practical measures to establish circular systems that facilitate the collection, recycling, and reuse of plastic-containing products. It plans to reach a ninety-five percent target by 2025 and is dedicated to developing all of its plastic packaging for recycling.

In collaboration with the business sector, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has provided resources and assistance to its teams in order to guarantee inclusive and environmentally friendly destination management.

In order to enhance accessibility, streamline traffic, and encourage environmentally friendly travel throughout the province, the project has also given local government agencies equipment for managing solid waste and clearing snow.

TREK is notable for its diversity, as it welcomes people from a wide range of backgrounds, including women, young people, and the transgender community.  Human rights activist and social worker Zareen Akhtar, who completed TREK training, attested to the program’s revolutionary effects. She was happy to impart her newfound knowledge to others after realising it. She made a point of saying that she is just one of the many women in this area who have had access to these trainings. “Inclusion of women not only has a major mindset shift in the region, allowing for a cohesive awareness within the social fabric of the community, but it also has a wider social impact.”

Projects such as TREK have the potential to change the face of tourism in some of Pakistan’s most pristine locations and guarantee that future generations will be able to enjoy them for many years to come. TREK’s next phase will see the inclusion of more participants from the nation’s financial and private sectors in order to initiate initiatives that promote investment mobilization and community empowerment in the aim of creating jobs.

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