By Shah Karez
Chitral is famous for the hospitality and civilized behaviour of its people. Bestowed with picturesque valleys, lofty peaks, cultural and ethnic diversity, Chitral offers one of the cherished tourist destinations in Pakistan.
Among the many tourist attractions of the country, Chitral has by far the best natural and serene environment. Peace and tranquility prevailed here even during the worst times of insurgencies and terror regime.
Promotion of tourism is certainly in the interest of the country for economic growth since this industry remains the second largest after oil in the world.Managed properly tourism brings prosperity to the host country or region. Conversely it has damaging effects.
Positive impacts of tourism
In short, tourism generates income for the host economy as well as foreign exchange earnings. It can stimulate investment in the regions’ economy and infrastructure, leading to the generation of employment and an increase in income for the local population. Employment may be created directly in the tourism industry through hotels, restaurants, taxis, souvenir sales and other tourism related services, or indirectly through the supply of goods and services needed by tourism-related businesses.
However, badly managed tourism has multiple adverse impacts on the host community, some are as below:
It has social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts. Social and cultural impact includes the undesirable changes brought about in the life styles of the host communities through interaction with the visitors. The natives are involuntarily influenced by their interaction with foreigners, often the locals lose their traditional living styles and imitate the new comers.Intermingling of people from various backgrounds and the competition for money gives way to increased crimes.
The story of adverse impacts of mass tourism does not end there, the tourist attractions get overcrowded resulting in poor sanitation leading to infections and diseases. Quality of tourist resorts are degraded and flora and fauna are threatened by the influx of visitors. Unwanted businesses crop up, waste disposal issues arise.More people means more transport, and increased sound and air pollution.
Examples of badly managed tourism
Local people not only lose traditional culture but they get tempted to sell their land, etc. to the rich outsiders for handsome offer. This is already happening in the Kalash valleys. The worst example of this happened in Bangkok where the actual land owners became beggars or door keepers in the buildings erected on the land the locals sold to outsiders. Not to speak of examples from across the globe, mismanaged tourism has already done damage to our own tourist resorts such as Murree and Galiat.
They were originally well planned but Poultry Farms were allowed to crop up along the roads to Murree and Galiat in addition to overcrowding and trampling beyond their carrying capacity. The annual festival sites of Shandur, Broghil and Qaqlasht are local examples of badly managed tourism. It is painful to see that the fresh waters emanating from Broghil and Shandur get polluted at the source because of open defecation by crowds and effluents of makeshift hotels. The serenity of these areas is turned into heaps of thrown away polythene bags, plastic bottles, and a highly trampled dusty ground at the end of the events.These areas are also used as grazing grounds of livestock that adds to further soil degradation.
According to World Tourism Organization, ‘Sustainable tourism development meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems.’
What needs to be done?
The PTI governments resolve to promote tourism is laudable.The easing of visa formalities means opening the doors to an influx of tourists. One would hope that the authorities take cognizance of the issues attached with mass tourism. In view of the sensitivity of tourism industry there is need for strategic development and management. In the environmental interest of Chitral and its people the following steps are suggested to be included as part of tourism strategy.
• Develop comprehensive protocols that should be exclusive for each tourist spot. These protocols must be binding on all stakeholders including travellers, tour operators, managers of conservation areas, government, NGOs, local communities and so on. Tourism related organizations must educate and train their staff to ensure that these protocols are provided invariably to all travellers at each entry point and information centre.
• Tourist guides can play important role in the promotion of tourism as ell as protection of environment. They must have full knowledge of the tourist areas, historical information about places, people, culture, heritage, likes and dislikes, dos’ and don’ts in the areas of visit. They must be trained in making good presentations to maintain and enhance the interest of the tourists and at the same time sensitize them to keep the environment clean. The tourist guides should find it easy to get the travel protocols implemented by the visitors in letter and spirit.
• Individuals dealing with tourists including local police must be trained to maintain friendly attitude and facilitate the tourists. A welcoming gesture with a smiling face plays wonders.
• The dwindling Kalash population needs particular attention lest it should be extinct. Factors threatening the culture must be investigated and done away with. Well trained local guides should conduct and facilitate the tourists,without annoying them, to maintain the cultural integrity of the places they visit.
• Purchasing of land or establishing businesses, by outsiders in Kalash valleys is detrimental to the culture and peace. This practice must be banned by law.
• It is more environment friendly idea to promote Farm Guest Houses with hot water and self-catering facilities.
For the promotion of tourism in Chitral, the following steps should be helpful.
• Complete the work on the southern and northern approaches of the Lowari Tunnel without further delay as the impression at the entry point will be lasting for many visitors.
• Pave the internal road network in the town of Chitral including the dilapidated airport road.
• All valley roads, including Kalash valleys, need proper pavement to make travel safe and easy. This is a huge work requiring sizeable investment.
• The garbage generated by town dwellers needs to be disposed of on daily basis. Introduce a sustainable system for this task as also for the newly emerging townships across the two districts.
• Maps containing accurate information about the trails, treks, hiking routes and the famous peaks, distances from town to different famous valleys including travel time and means of transport must be made available to the visitors. Wrong information will only lose the trust of the guests.
• The Boarding and Lodging facilities currently available in the town of Chitral and elsewhere will not suffice to absorb rising numbers of visitors.
• Most of the hotels and restaurants do not maintain minimum level of hygienic environment and acceptable quality. There is need to upgrade and improve the hotels, guest houses and restaurants to offer required space, hygienic environment, clean linen and food at reasonable prices in and around the town.
• The entrepreneurs in Garam Chashma, Arkari, Karimabad, Mulkhow, Terich, Torkhow, Yarkhun, Laspur, Shishikuh, Drosh, Booni and in other valleys must be encouraged, guided and supported with soft loans to open guest houses, hotels and tourist related other businesses.
• Left on their own, the local transport and taxi owners exploit the travellers by charging self-determined rates. The transport rates once fixed for various destinations should be kept under close monitoring of the concerned authorities so that the tourists can travel without being harassed.
• More tourism products need to be introduced and advertised. These may include developing new game resorts for winter sports in places such as Madaklasht and Shandur. There are potential sites for Golf courses in Shandur and Broghil to add to the variety of games in the annual festivals there.
• Last but not the least, building codes must be introduced in Chitral and effectively implemented. Unorganized growth has been enough. Having said that, Chitral can still be turned into an ideal town, without disturbing its landscape and natural beauty, with grafting of scientific town planning.
Countries opening the doors for tourists without effective tourism management system are bearing the brunt of it, refer to examples quoted elsewhere.
Concrete measures are required for the promotion of tourism and at the same time protection of environment from its multifaceted disastrous impacts. It is of no use crying over spilt milk.
(The writer is an experienced development professional).