Ecofriendly tourism trap

Promoting so-called ecotourism is an increasingly popular pastime here in Pakistan. Yet, the majority of those purportedly involved, be they government or private organisations and individuals, do not appear to have the slightest understanding of what this actually entails. Their reason for rebranding tourism in this fashionable manner is, putting it bluntly, purely financial and 'eco does not enter the equation. Pakistanis are, however, far from being alone in their 'miss-interpretation of the word, as money hungry entrepreneurs all over this now horrendously fragile planet continue to exploit the natural environment, destroying precious ecosystems and microsystems in the process, with little, or no thought, to the consequences. Speaking generally, any ecotourism development starts out by annihilating at least part of the area it intends to promote: Access roads are bulldozed in, foundations dug and construction undertaken; footpaths are carved out of natural forests and other wilderness areas, 'essential services such as electricity, water, telephone and sewage lines are put in and Bang...The outside world has invaded with plans to stay on as long as gullible tourists can be lured in. Such sites are, in all reality, absolutely no different from any other tourist related development in that their very existence has eaten into the local area by being there at all. In this manner, relatively remote localities, in which all levels and aspects of the natural environment have been self-sustaining for centuries, are eroded and, eventually, rubbed out. True to say that ecofriendly tourism enterprises are highly unlikely to offer amusement parks and go-cart tracks (these are quite likely to be developed close by, by other opportunists biding their time in the wings), but they could, and often do, incorporate things like off-road bike tracks and fast food joints in their ground plans and there is nothing environmentally friendly about these. This is not to say that tourists should not be encouraged to enjoy the wild areas of the country we still have left but, without any sense of what these areas are and of the flora and fauna they contain, they cannot be expected to develop an understanding of sustainability and the importance of caring and respecting the environment as a whole. There is though a far more sensible way of going about teaching people how to coexist with nature. This teaching really should begin at primary school level. If children are introduced to the wonders of nature at an early age and, if this teaching instils in them the need to protect the environment as a whole, including on the home front, they would be more prone to reaching adulthood with an inbuilt desire to care for the world in which we all live. For example, it is all fine and dandy to treat schoolchildren to ecotourism day trips to the beach, ecotourism day trips to the countryside and ecotourism summer expeditions to the forests and mountains. But simply taking them there then allowing to run riot, thus freeing up their supervisors to do as they see fit, is not what it is all about as the children learn nothing at all, not even the need to put garbage in a bin The subject of ecotourism is very much on my mind this summer as twice in the past two weeks, I cannot count how many times before that, I have observed masses of students, packed like sardines, in convoys of buses bearing slogans such as 'Ecotourism Trip and 'Eco-Expedition who, judging by the sound of music and singing and the avalanches of empty snack packs and soft drink containers tossed out of the vehicles windows, were having a whale of a time. I also witnessed one such convoy of three large buses pulling over to the side of the Nathia Gali road to allow the students to picnic in a forest grove where the first thing they did was set up ghetto blasters and dance. Every single animal and bird for miles around must have panicked at the influx of noise pollution and every plant screamed as teenage girls raced around pulling up wild daises by their roots to weave into flower garlands. Their supervisors simply joined in the wantonly destructive fun Real ecotourism, as against the aforementioned nonsense, is soundly based on developing an affinity with nature through a process of on-the-spot learning and studious observation of the natural world. It is about walking not being driven, about being silent and listening to what nature and its inhabitants have to say and about leaving not even a single indented footprint behind when you leave. Quite obviously, none of these things are going to happen, unless a certain number of easy-to-follow rules and regulations are both laid down and strictly enforced. Enjoying the wilderness and the flowers, animals and birds it contains does not, unfortunately, come natural to the majority of the human race and not everyone is interested in learning, yet all can be encouraged to at least develop a measure of respect for it. But this is not going to happen as long as the term 'Ecotourism is allowed to be so blatantly misused. n The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Womans War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban. Email:

Zahrah Nasir

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.

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