ECO RURAL TOURISM IN PAKISTAN
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What is missing or not developed is tourism in the countryside


 

By Dr. AMAN ULLAH CHAUDHRY
Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. E-mail: uaf_amanullah@yahoo.com

Oct 18 - 24, 2004
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Pakistan is known as a tourist paradise and is a special interest destination. Its main attractions include adventure tourism in the Northern Areas, cultural and archaeological tourism as found in Taxila, Monenjodaro, Harrapa and early Muslims and Mughal heritage at Multan, Lahore, Thatta, Peshawar, Swat. Besides this, birds watching, desert safaris, trekking and mountaineering are readily available tourist specialized products.

What is missing or not developed is tourism in the countryside. There are many terms for this type of tourism such as rural tourism, agricultural tourism, ecotourism, green tourism and agro-tourism.

Rural tourism has much to offer to the world, rich in traditions of arts, crafts and culture. Rural Pakistan can emerge as important tourist spots. Those in developed world who have a craze for knowledge about traditional ways of life, arts and crafts will be attracted to visit rural Pakistan if the concept of rural tourism is marketed well.

WHY PAKISTANI FARMERS NEED RURAL TOURISM

It will be a new source of income for Pakistani farmers. The income gap between farmers and urban workers has become a major problem in Pakistan. The situation is likely to get worse over the next few years, now that the Uruguay Round is being implemented and Pakistani market is being opened to cheap agricultural produce from abroad. To maintain their present standard of living, farmers will have to find new ways of earning money. In favourable areas, agricultural tourism can become an important source of farm income.

When small-scale farmers first become involved in the tourist industry, they often need some outside support. They may require credit and outside expertise to keep them improve their facilities to meet the standards of urban or foreign visitors. They may need new skills of management and service, so that their visitors will be pleased with their stay and want to come back. They may also require outside help in advertising and publicity, to attract tourists from distant cities and abroad.

 

PATTERNS OF RURAL TOURISM

The way in which rural tourism is organized and the forms it takes vary from country to country. Farm tourism, almost by definition, means different things in different countries. In Finland, for instance, it usually denotes rented cottages and catering services in the country. In Hungary, it is about low-priced accommodation in villages. In Slovenia, it implies tourism on family farms, with guests living with the farmer's family or in a guesthouse and visiting the farm for meals and tours, while in the Netherlands, it translates into camping, cycling and horse riding. In Greece, on the other hand, rural tourism is about boarding in traditionally done up rooms and breakfasting on home made products.

In some countries, the government or cooperative movement is the main source of investment. In others it is private enterprise.

In Indonesia rural tourism has been developed mainly in plantation areas of Sumatra and Java. Visitors stay in hotels, but visit farms to see activities such as rice planting or rubber tapping. In Japan, the most common type of farm tourism is the farm inn, which offers accommodation and usually meals. Korea offers tourism farms, developed by a group of more than five farm households, and home-stay villages near tourist resort areas. In Malaysia, the government has provided most of the funding for more than 30 agro tourisms centers. These are intended for education as well as recreation. Sometimes rare plants or animals species are the main attraction, sometimes traditional foods, handicrafts or historic buildings.

A European example of well-developed rural tourism is France. Camping and Caravans are the most popular form of accommodation in rural areas, many of them on farms. Many farmers have developed camping sites on their farms. Others farmers prefer to invest in various kinds of short-term rental houses.

Pakistani farmers are unlikely to match up to these standards, as the agricultural farms are not developed in that respect.

Some experts, however, disagree that foreign farm visitors have to be treated with kid gloves. In India a farmer own an eight-acre farm, says, we have about 500 foreigners visiting our organic farms each year. We conserve nature and have a large collection of seeds and medicinal herbs and rare plant species.

SOUND PLANNING PROCEDURES ARE VITAL

The value of ecotourism market in developing countries is estimated to be in the range of $5 to 10 billion annually. The number of eco tourists is growing by about 20 per cent per annum and is currently estimated to account for about 7 per cent of all international travel expenditures.

A study commissioned by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and industry concludes that farm and rural tourism, if developed along unique indigenous lines, could have multipliers effect and high revenue capital ratio. In layman's terms that means more jobs and money.

Every 10.00,000 additional visitors, it says, can translate into Rs. 4,300 crore in revenue. The investment at each additional Rs. 10,00,000 can create 47.5 jobs. And each direct job can create 11 indirect jobs.

The Indian government has identified 31 villages across the country as tourist spots. This does not mean that India has only 31 potential tourist spots in rural areas. There are many more. These spots have been selected on pilot basis keeping in view available infrastructures. There are many others spots of potential tourist interest where adequate infrastructure needs to be developed.

Good planning is vital if rural tourism is really going to benefit rural communities. To city dwellers, the countryside may seem a peaceful heaven. For rural people, tourism may cause conflict and distress, there are too many visitors causing too much noise and traffic. Local services such as rubbish collection and sewage may not be able to cope. Poorly planned development can spoil community life and ruin the landscape. Good planning not only minimizes the destructive impact of tourism it is useful in other ways. It helps farmers assess the tourism potential of their farms and their local area, and develop this potential in a coordinated way.

PROBLEMS IN RURAL TOURISM

(A) LACK OF MANAGEMENT SKILLS

There is the lack of management skills among farmers involved in tourism projects.

Lack of skills is also problem among the local government staff responsible for planning and regulation of tourism. Most have little knowledge or experience of tourism development. This makes it difficult for them to select suitable projects for development or assess the impact of these projects on rural areas.

(B) MARKETING

Most rural tourism facilities tend to be small and widely scattered. This makes it difficult to market them to potential visitors, and makes it almost impossible for them to cater for the mass tourist industry.

(C) INFRASTRUCTURE

Many rural areas of outstanding natural beauty have a poor road or rail network, and are difficult to reach. Roads are poor so that travel is slow. City dwellers are unwilling to spend their precious free time visiting the countryside if it takes too long to get there.

(D) LIMITED TOURISM SEASON

Rural areas receive most of their tourists during the height of season. This limits the number of days in which tourist accommodation and other facilities are used and the return on investment.

(E) RETURN ON INVESTMENT

Returns on capital invested in rural tourism tend to be low. They are nearly always lower than the return from other kinds of commercial enterprises. In general, small-scale farmers are well advised not to invest too heavily in new buildings or expensive facilities. It is difficult for them to make a profit if they are burdened by heavy interest payments. Cheap credit and other financial help from government can make a big difference in the profitability of a tourism farm.

A study by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and industry suggests that the sector can get a boost, if all aspects of eco tourism are developed. This study has estimated that there is a subset within eco and rural tourism that is profitable on a stand- alone basis and is amenable to commercial financing.

CONCLUSION

1- Most successful rural tourism is the product of good planning and good location.

Tourists farms are much more likely to succeed if they are near tourist attractions such as national parks or good beaches. Good roads are also important.

Large-scale development, if it is well designed, can attract more tourists, and have a spillover affect in generating income for farmers over a wide area. Farmers beginning a tourist enterprise can benefit very much from outside support. They need information and guidance in deciding whether their farms are suitable for tourists, what facilities they can offer and what return they can expect. Once the decision to develop is taken, they need training in management and hospitality, and sometimes they also need credit. Finally, they need to be part of some system of marketing and advertisement, and benefit greatly from some system of feedback and customer response. A national system of accreditation or licensing is also an advantage.

Whether investment is primarily from the government or commercial sources, the rate of return from rural tourism is usually low compared to other kind of commercial investment. This means that either credit should be supplied on favourable terms, or farmers must have strong reasons other than economic ones for investing in farm tourism. In fact, wider social contacts and making new friends sometimes seem to be as strong motivation as the economic return on investment.

Farmers are most likely to benefit from tourism if they can directly provide tourists with services and products, whether these are accommodation, food, local specialties or combination of the three. While the economic impact of rural tourism is not simple to evaluate, its development is most likely to benefit farmers if it is small scale, dispersed and supplier-oriented rather than demand-oriented.

2- Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation is responsible for identification and implementation of tourist projects. It is suggested that corporation should initiate studies on rural tourism. The pilot projects should be identified and implemented. Data regarding the investment analysis may be generated for further planning. This sector may be developed for creating employment and reduction of poverty in Pakistan.