Islamabad, /DNA/ – Speaking at a webinar on Sunday, the experts urged the authorities to take urgent measures for the economic sustainability of mountain tourism that needs transformation from the conventional snow and ice based adventure sports and tourism to contemporary innovative business models. Mountain cultural festivals, visits to heritage sites, mountain biking competitions and jeep rallies will work from now onward after the deterioration of mountain ecosystems.

They said the sustainability of nature-based mountain tourism is likely to be threatened in the wake of the worst climate impact. The Covid-19 has already shown its impact on mountain tourism. The governments need to take immediate steps to revive the tourist destinations to ensure safe and consistent livelihood for the mountain communities. Many companies engaged in mountain tourism have gone bankrupt during the pandemic. Soft loans and grants could help them restore their businesses.  

The webinar was organised by the Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) on Sunday in connection with its ongoing 11th Pakistan Mountain Festival, the annual flagship event to commemorate the International Mountain Day.

The experts spoke on the occasion included Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) based international hospitality and tourism expert and former vice president United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Choon Loong Lee, Gilgit-Baltistan Tourism Minister Raja Nasir Ali Khan, sustainable tourism expert and Managing Director Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation Aftab ur Rehman Rana, Devcom-Pakistan Executive Director and founder and director Pakistan Mountain Festival Munir Ahmed, and Climate Smart Agricultural expert Azhar Qureshi. Founder SDGs academy Ammar Jafri, Manager Tourism plus Iqra Shiraz, Sadaf Sheikh and Shaaref Munir, a tourism and hospitality student at the Özyeğin University, Istanbul (Turkey) also joined the panel discussion.

Choon Loong Lee said the Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted mountain tourism by disturbing the supply chain while climate change has devastated the mountain ecology and culture. The companies operating tourism at 5000 metres high mountains have gone bankrupt globally because of the pandemic and climate change impact. The economic cycle of the mountain communities also disrupted with this. Mountain communities are the poorest ones and they need sustainable mountain tourism for their better livelihood and living.

Mr. Lee mentioned that relevant leadership, trained human resource and scientific data is missing for sustainable mountain tourism in the developing and least developed countries. The other key challenge is the absence of required funds to support the companies and communities engaged in tourism.

Gilgit-Baltistan Tourism Minister Raja Nasir Ali Khan mentioned about different steps being taken to revive tourism and adventure sports in the province. Some policy frameworks have been in the process of approval where different stakeholders will be engaged in for the sustainability of the community based tourism.

Aftab ur Rehman Rana said constitutionally the federal government is hand-cuffed after the 18th amendment as the tourism, sports and culture has been devolved to the provinces. The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation is making its best efforts to promote tourism and engage international tourists through the Interprovincial Coordination ministry. Our mountains are the best tourist destinations in all provinces. More than 5000 glaciers and the ecology around offer best opportunities for tourism and adventure sports. Climate change is a big threat but the adaptation and mitigation strategies will help in developing sustainable mountain tourism.

Shaaref Munir mentioned that the Turkish government has taken stringent steps against the vulnerability factors impacting their skiing resorts. Heavy fines are imposed on the polluters, deforestation and degradation of natural resources. The government has supported the tourism facilities and companies with grants and soft loans to revive the hospitality and tourism industry. Preparedness to combat the pandemic and climate impact is the only solution for sustainable mountain tourism.

Azhar Qureshi emphasised on the establishment of organic agricultural farms and orchids in the mountain regions as the future attraction for the visitors from the downstream. Huts shall be promoted instead of concrete guest houses and hotels.