Gilgit-Baltistan Tourism And The Tragedy Of The Commons

Gilgit-Baltistan Tourism And The Tragedy Of The Commons
Gilgit-Baltistan has become a famous tourist destination for both national and international tourists due to its majestic mountains, forts, deserts, waterfalls, national parks and eye-catching lakes. In the case of Pakistan, tourism is generally classified into four different types; historical, religious, ecotourism and adventure tourism. And in GB, the presence of all these types of tourism attracts huge numbers of tourists every year. According to the Tourism Department of GB, the number of visitors is increasing with the passage of time.

Figures provided by the Tourism Department, Gilgit-Baltistan

In 2022, a record number of visitors visited GB. According to the government of Gilgit-Baltistan, in 2022, more than 2 billion tourists visited GB.

With the flourishing of the tourism sector in Gilgit-Baltistan, it also producing tragedy of commons – as the cultural, socio-economic, and environmental patterns of GB are being depleted at a large scale.

To be sure, the advantages of this tourism are obvious. Due to an increase in the influx of tourists in Gilgit-Baltistan, there are more job opportunities for the local community in the form of tour guides, running hotels, rest houses and travel agencies which enhance the living standards of people. And these are the economic impacts. According to a study by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), about 50% of families in Gilgit-Baltistan are directly or indirectly depended upon tourism for their earnings. This can be considered a good sign because people move towards self-employment.

But there are dark sides to this tourism too. Due to the increase in influx of tourists, environmental degradation has occurred. The flooding in 2022 is a particular example of environmental degradation.

It may be argued that tourism is causing significant harm to the natural environment of Gilgit-Baltistan. Although bins are provided at tourist sites for proper disposal of garbage, most visitors fail to use them, leading to littering at every spot. Additionally, the use of private vehicles by tourists contributes to increased congestion, noise pollution, and air pollution in the area. Unlike those in big cities of Pakistan, the roads in Gilgit-Baltistan have many sharp turns, and visitors often drive at high speeds, resulting in an increase in road accidents. The government has a responsibility not only to promote tourism but also to implement policies that promote environmental sustainability. Unfortunately, the government of Gilgit-Baltistan has been deforesting to create national parks, exacerbating the already severe environmental degradation. The construction of hotels and rest houses to accommodate the influx of tourists has further contributed to deforestation. In addition, there is a lack of proper sewage systems, and untreated sewage often contaminates fresh water, leading to waterborne diseases among the locals.

Tourism has had a significant impact on the socio-cultural patterns of Gilgit-Baltistan, in addition to the environmental issues. Due to the increase in the number of tourists, the culture of GB has become hybridized through the spillover effect of tourists' dress, food, and other activities. The privacy of local people is also affected as many tourists enter local houses without respecting boundaries. Last year, social media trends against tourism began due to an increase in wall chalking at different tourist spots. Drug addiction among the youth and harassment of local women also prevail due to domestic tourists.

While tourism has improved the living standards of local people, all stakeholders, including the local community and the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan, should formulate Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that can ensure sustainable tourism. Tourists should also respect local norms and culture. As a significant number of local communities depend on tourism for their livelihoods, the government should devise proper planning to promote sustainable and environmentally-friendly tourism throughout the year.

Allah Almighty has blessed Gilgit-Baltistan with natural resources such as minerals, mines, livestock, fisheries, and agricultural lands. The government should also promote these sectors so that people do not rely solely on tourism.

To address environmental issues, the local administration needs to work with those involved in tourism, by assigning them tasks to maintain cleanliness and properly dispose of garbage, and by imposing fines and taxes on tourists. If this approach is not feasible, the tourist police should be given the authority to impose fines and taxes on those who pollute the environment.

Domestic tourists should travel with tourist agencies like foreign tourists to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. Tourists have a right to enjoy themselves, but they should also respect the social norms, values, culture, and traditions of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Wajhullah Fahim is a research student at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad.