Growing up, Muhammad Numan saw a cleaner, more natural environment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s tourist destinations. But as time passed and tourism surged, the local landscape he once knew began to change. The influx of tourists resulted in a growing pile of litter across the otherwise scenic sites in the north.
The travel and tourism sector’s total contribution to Pakistan’s GDP was 5.9 percent in 2022 and 4.2 million jobs. This is sub-optimal considering the diverse tourist sites located across the country. Pakistan attracted ~US$ 16 billion in visitor spending in 2022 which is projected to touch ~US$ 30 billion in 2033.
Pakistan experienced an unprecedented surge in domestic tourism immediately after the Covid induced travel restrictions were lifted: For instance, in 2021 and 2022, over 1.2 million domestic and international tourists visited the country’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone.
To manage this increasing all-season footfall of visitors while harnessing its understated economic potential, the local authorities, communities, and private sector require resources, equipment and training without losing focus on green and inclusive tourism.
Determined to make a change, Numan, who now works as a manager at a local hotel in Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, sought ways to mitigate the negative impact of the tourism industry on the ecosystem. That is when he came across the “Travel Responsibly for Experiencing Eco-tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa” (TREK) initiative – a partnership between the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, World Bank (WB) and Nestlé Pakistan to promote and support responsible tourism initiatives.
TREK complements the ongoing activities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Integrated Tourism Development Project (KITE) project for heritage preservation and tourism infrastructure development. Since 2020, it has completed awareness campaigns for tourists, and training of local communities and hospitality businesses on waste management. TREK has trained over 650 participants from more than 150 hotels and restaurants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s tourist areas. The beneficiaries also included local communities, local authorities and academia of Peshawar, Nathiagali, Abbottabad, Swat, Naran and Chitral districts.
These trainings concentrated on solid waste minimization, segregation, management, and recycling techniques. Public service messages on responsible tourism were also launched through social media and radio campaigns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and cities of Islamabad and Lahore. Most country’s domestic tourists are concentrated in these geographies and were thus able to receive communication on tourist helplines on the importance of keeping the sites litter-free.
10,000 reusable bags were distributed to tourists and the hotel association in tourist hotspots aiming to encourage their use and minimize littering. 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.
Tourist information sign boards in Galiyat, Pakistan
TREK Awareness Workshop for Community and Local Government Participants
Incorporating the knowledge from these sessions, like several other participants, Numan introduced eco-friendly practices at his hotel. He also spearheads a community-funded clean-up initiative in his hometown of Mardan district. This initiative has transformed into a community-driven effort, with residents actively participating in regular clean-up drives. Such sustainable transformations encapsulate the very essence of what TREK envisions for communities throughout the province and beyond.
TREK has propelled its partners towards impactful activities by encouraging collaboration with the private sector. Its partner in the initiative, Nestlé Pakistan, is taking concrete actions to create circular systems that make it easier to collect, recycle and reuse products that use plastic. It is committed to designing 100 percent of its plastic packaging for recycling and expects to achieve a 95 percent target by 2025.
The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has allocated resources and supports its teams to ensure green and inclusive destination management in partnership with the private sector.
The project has also provided machinery for snow removal and solid waste management to local authorities to improve accessibility, traffic flow and promote sustainable tourism in the province.
TREK’s inclusivity stands out, inviting participants from diverse backgrounds, including women, youth, and the transgender community. Zareen Akhtar, a social worker, and human rights activist who underwent TREK training, testified to the program’s transformative impact. She acknowledged the newfound knowledge she gained, eager to share it with others. She emphasized that she’s one of the many women in this region who have had the opportunity to attend these trainings. “Inclusion of women not only has a wider social impact but also a major mindset shift in the region, allowing for a cohesive awareness within the social fabric of the community.”
Initiatives like TREK have the power to transform the tourism landscape in some of Pakistan’s most pristine destinations and ensure that future generations continue to enjoy these in years to come. In its next phase, TREK will integrate additional players from the private and financial sectors of the country to launch activities that support community empowerment and investment mobilization for job creation.
By Kiran Afzal, Senior Private Sector Specialist, World Bank Pakistan, Touseef Khalid, Project Director, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Integrated Tourism Development (KITE) Project, and Sheikh Waqar Ahmad, Head of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability, Nestlé Pakistan.