In this interview, Agha Iqrar Haroon, popularly known as Ekrar, shares his insights on tourism development in Pakistan and Asia. He first joined the tourism sector as a tourist guide at the age of 15 and then worked as a journalist for Pakistan’s leading English newspapers. Haroon is a former Consultant at the Pakistan Ministry of Tourism and the founding President of Ecotourism Society Pakistan that was constituted in 1998. Agha Iqrar Haroon is the Honorary Head of The Region Initiative (TRI), connecting South Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. He is currently working as Chief Editor of Dispatch News Desk (DND) news agency and teaches tourism and media studies in different universities.
- Agha Iqrar Haroon’s main personal and professional insights;
- How tourism has evolved and developed in Pakistan;
- Similar threats and opportunities presented to South Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe;
- Which issues are the most crucial for advancement towards a more sustainable tourism in Pakistan;
- Predictions for the future of sustainable tourism in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ekrar, do you remember the first time you heard or thought about sustainability in tourism? What got you interested in this topic?
I was a tour guide in the early 80s when I was a student in my first year in college. At that time Pakistan was popular among extreme hikers, mountaineers, anthropologists and writers used to travel to our north in groups.
People who visited our country often left imported beer bottles, cans, plastic bags and non-dissolvable garbage behind. Tourist groups would come through big tourism operators who managed their accommodation, food and transport. Big tour companies situated in big cities were receiving money and I saw almost nothing practically transferred to communities where these tours had been operated. Communities were essentially just there to receive garbage.
I was not happy with this situation and thought there was something I could do to protect nature and transfer the benefits of tourism to local communities. This was the beginning and start of my activism.