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Ecotourism a Sustainable Development Option in Azad Kashmir

By Ejaz Ur-Rehman Email: ejaz@pressforpeace.org.uk

Ecotourism has become an important economic activity in natural areas around the world. Tourism is becoming increasingly popular, as both
domestic and international visitors flock to the most attractive places. Tourism is one of the largest and steadily growing economic sectors world -
wide, as well as being a sector in which developing nations have a considerable stake. For this reason alone, tourism is a re levant factor in terms of
development policies. Especial ly in nature conservation, the "ecotourism" option is increasingly advocated in order to contribute to conservation
project funding and offer economic incentives for the preservation of ecosystems and their biodiversity. Ecotourism provides opportunities f or
visitors to experience powerful manifestations of nature and culture and to learn about the importance of biodiversity conser vation and local
cultures. At the same time, ecotourism generates income for conservation programs and economic benefits for com munities living in rural and
remote areas.

(Source:ecotourismbengal.files.wordpress.com)
Beautiful Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir

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The attributes of ecotourism make it a valuable tool for conservation. Its implementation can:

ü Give economic value to ecosystem services that protected areas provide


ü Generate direct income for the conservation of protected areas
ü Generate direct and indirect income for local stakeholders, creating incentives for conservation in local communities
ü Build constituencies for conservation, locally, nationally and internationally
ü Promote sustainable use of natural resources; and reduce threats to biodiversity.

Of course, not all tourism to natural areas is ecotourism. Nature tourism, as opposed to ecotourism, may lack mechanisms for mitigating impacts
on the environment and fail to demonstrate respect for local culture. Consequently, we are witnessing an onslaught of visitat ion to natural areas
that, in many cases, is undermining the values that make these areas attractive.

Azad Kashmir:

Areas of Azad Kashmir, because of their ecological value, especially those found in temperate zone of District Muzaffarabad, Neelum ,Bagh and
Rawalakot and contain many of the national greatest ecotourism attractions. These attractions consist of rare or endemic species of flora or fauna,
abundant wildlife, high indices of species diversity,spectacular geomorphological formations, ,unique historic and contempor ary cultural
manifestations in a natural context. Azad Kashmir Government confronted with a wide range of different forms of tourism development and, at the
same time promote themselves as “ecotourism-destinations”.

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Wonderful Tao Butt ,Azad Jammu & Kashmir

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Ecotourism can be initiate only when it is the most effective strategy to achieve tangible, lasting results. The distinct bu t intimately interrelated
aspects of ecotourism, conservation management and business development, must be fully understood by ecot ourism planners and protected area
managers before moving ahead with plans to implement ecotourism activities.Conservationists have typically approached ecotour ism with a limited
understanding of business issues and an incomplete understanding of the manag ement mechanisms that are available and necessary to ensure the
sustainability of tourism in Ecological valuable areas in Azad Kashmir.
Similarly, nature tourism operators and organisers have often carried out their initiatives with an incomplete underst anding of conservation issues
and consequently have operated in an unsustainable fashion like recent Polo Matches in Neelum Valley and Bhutto Mela in Sudhan Galli ,Bagh Azad
Kashmir.

In order for ecotourism to be successful, conservationists need a greater understanding of business considerations; likewise, developers need a
greater awareness of the management mechanisms that are necessary to ensure the sustainability of the activity. Combining bot h conservation and
business perspectives is essential for a successful ecotourism program.
In Azad Kashmir natural areas are state, private or community owned or administered, or any combination thereof. Funds to man age these areas
are usually scarce. As a result, these areas often lack the capacity to ensur e that tourism generates the full range of benefits it should. In spite of
recent tourism activities in Azad Kashmir hence, in many areas opportunities for income generation for site conservation and local communities are

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under exploited and tourism may i n fact pose a threat to conservation.For ecotourism to fulfill its potential and generate sustainable benefits,
natural areas must implement a planning framework to guide and manage the activity.

Ecotourism Management Plan

Like all well -managed organizations, ecotourism enterprises require sound


Zoning for Visitor Use
business planning to succeed, but the planning process differs from those of

Visitor Site Planning and Design other industries because social and environmental factors must also be
considered. Taking tourism as a sustainable development option, it must be
Sustainable Infrastructure Design planned and managed so that its socio -economic benefits are spread as widely as
possible throughout the society of the destination. Community -based tourism
Revenue Generating Mechanisms projects are important means for spreading benefits to local residents. The
sustainable development approach is particularly important in tou rism because
Visitor Monitoring and Management
this sector depends mostly on tourism attractions and activities that are related to
the natural environment and historic and cultural heritage.
Naturalist Guides –the Heart of Ecotourism
(The Writer is an Ecologist and Director Press for Peace ) UK)

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