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Anybody for Polo at 5.000 meters? Chinese tourism to Pakistan

Anybody for Polo at 5.000 meters? Chinese tourism to Pakistan

Dear reader,

The world is already experiencing again a record-breaking hot summer, in Europe and in Turkiye temperatures going beyond 40 degrees Celsius already in early June. In Athens, the Acropolis had to be closed temporarily. Mountain tourism can be an alternative, also for Chinese tourists.

This week, your humble editor had the honour of being invited to the Policy Brief Writeshop “Promoting Sustainable Mountain Tourism for climate resilient and green circular economy”, organised by ICIMOD and the Konsar University Murree in Pakistan. Based on a mountain tourism and climate change stock take exercise done in 2023 for Nepal and Pakistan by ICIMOD, the writeshop had the aim to produce three policy briefs for the governments of Punjab, Gilgit Baltistan and Kyber Pakhtunkhwa, all located in the north of the country.

ICIMOD, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, is a regional intergovernmental organization established in 1983, working to make the Hindu Kush Himalaya region greener, more inclusive and climate resilient. The KUM Kohsar University Murree has a much shorter history, being started only three years ago, but is situation up in the mountains, where it was used by the British as the summer capital of British India for several decades in the 19th century.

While most of Pakistan reached already again temperatures above 40 degrees C, Millee offered comfortable 30 degrees. This is higher than the average temperatures in previous years, but the fresh and cool air is one of the main attractions for city dwellers to drive up the long and winding road towards the resort. The success has, as in many other countries, resulted in a landscape which is cluttered with thousands of houses, many of them far exceeding the officially allowed number of storeys. Punjab, including Millee, is responsible for about 60% of all the biodiversity in flora and fauna in Pakistan, which is however endangered by the increasing build-up of the area, often in the middle of high mountains and deep valleys. Locals are leaving many areas, but hotels are taking over their place.

The organisers had prepared a very ambitious programme for the participants, experts from the three northern provinces of Pakistan, a delegation from Nepal, your humble editor, and online from Australia, Prof. Susanne Becken, the climate and tourism expert.

For many Western visitors, a holiday in Pakistan sounds like an odd idea, based on a lack of knowledge about the natural and cultural attractions of the country plus a – currently unfounded – fear of terrorism as well as the fact that Pakistan is an almost alcohol-free country - no glass of wine with dinner, no whisky for après-ski in winter.

For Chinese tourists, Pakistan is seen as a country with strong relations with China, not very far away and with a food which is easily acceptable for Chinese palates and stomachs. Still, also in this market the pre-pandemic numbers of visitors have not yet been reached again. Foreign visitors in general play only a minor role in the tourism of Pakistan, less than 5% of overnights are created by foreign arrivals. One obvious reason for this is the lack of visitors from the big neighbour to the East, India.

Previous COTRI projects for destinations such as Iran and the UAE have shown that Chinese travellers are not much deterred by the limited availability of alcohol. Most Chinese prefer to have a drink in private rather than hanging out in a bar. Furthermore, many Chinese interviewees also were optimistic that officially there might be a ban on alcohol, but that a 10- or 20-dollar bill tip for the hotel concierge would always procure a bottle if needed, regardless of the official regulations.

One of the very special attractions, which attracted Chinese visitors even before the pandemic, is a 4,000-meter polo tournament taking place during the Shandur Polo Festival, held annually in early July at Shandur Top in the Golaghmuli Valley, of the Gupis-Yasin District of Gilgit-Baltistan. Shandur Top is the world highest polo ground. The festival also includes folk music and dance. A camping village is set up which offers free accommodation and food for international visitors sponsored by the local government to increase the visibility of the event and the region in the global market, including China.

Mountain regions with cooler temperatures in summer will certainly be among the winners, or rather less losers, in climate change both in domestic tourism in China as well as in outbound tourism. Chinese, like many others, will have to flee the big hot cities in the summer. Alas, as your humble editor could personally witness during the drive back from the mountain to Islamabad airport, climate change and higher temperatures result also in the Pakistani mountains in more forest fires.

As always, all best wishes for all readers from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the entire COTRI INTELLIGENCE team!