News: Panjshir promotes tourism development
Story by Maj. LeeAnn Tumblson
PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – International media representatives, tourism experts and Afghan officials made up the more than 50 attendees to the two-day Panjshir Tourism Development Conference May 28 - 29.
Officials held the conference to attract investors and tour operators to Panjshir as a tourism destination, taking advantage of its natural beauty, the proximity to the country’s capital and the overall security, said Bill Martin, Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team director and Arlington, Va., native.
“The main idea of the conference was to stimulate the interest in tourism development and social opportunities for the province,” said Martin. “With a goal of increased local jobs and income, we wanted to look at tourism in a way that minimizes cultural and environmental impacts.”
The first day, visitors flew in to Shahr Bland Village in Paryan District, the northern most district in Panjshir and began their tour of the province with a breakfast with District Gov. Abdul Jalil and local elders.
Spending their day in Panjshir as tourists themselves, the group traveled south to see the many views of the mountain-filled province centered around the Panjshir River. The group also stopped at a local bazaar and Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Tomb.
“This place has great natural beauty with amazing mountains, a beautiful river and fresh air,” said Marshall Ferrin, Afghan Investment Support Agency senior investment advisor. “There is a great potential for outdoor activities in Panjshir, and I’m sure our adventurer friends here will see that opportunity.”
Throughout the day, the Panjshir PRT escorted the group and spoke with them about their experiences in the province.
“Though we’re here on a deployment, we’ve still been able to be out in the valley among the people and learn about their culture,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Darin Pugh, Panjshir PRT vehicle operator and Tacoma, Wash., native. “Thinking about the prospect of being able to come back to Afghanistan in the future and vacation to Panjshir is pretty cool.”
Deputy Gov. Abdul Rahman Kabiri hosted the group for a traditional Afghan dinner at the governor’s compound.
“I believe the most appealing areas for tourism here are the outdoor activities,” said Peter Jouvenal, co-owner of Gandamack Lodge in Kabul, Afghanistan and London native. “Fishing, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking- it’s all here!”
The second day of the conference took place in the great hall of the newly dedicated Massoud Technical and Vocational School. The Panjshir Provincial Government supported by AISA and Panjshir PRT hosted the event.
Since Afghanistan has not had an active tourism industry for more than thirty years, Afghan government officials raised the need to create public awareness about tourism’s benefits.
“We truly believe we have the capacity of attracting tourists to Panjshir,” said Afghanistan Deputy Minister for Tourism Nabi Farahi, through an interpreter. “With support from our international colleagues and the Panjshiris utilizing their resources from the valley, the campaign for developing tourism here will hopefully be a success.”
Participants brought up Panjshir’s historic and natural attraction opportunities repeatedly.
“Think about why people travel; not only for sightseeing, but also for their health, for sports and cultural events,” said John Heather, U.S. Agency for International Development officer and tourism development expert, to the conference attendees. “Bazarak Municipality may play a very important role in this. It has a government seat, a guesthouse and easy access to restaurants, the river and Massoud’s Tomb. The soccer stadium that has the capacity for 18,000 spectators is literally right across the street.”
“Imagine using the stadium’s large potential to attract national teams for their summer practices; athletes like to train in high altitudes. Imagine what the fans can do in the valley, while they’re not watching their favorite teams. With Panjshir having such a famous history of fighting the Soviets, and the Taliban under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Massoud’s Tomb will be an incredible attraction as well,” he added.
Panjshir needs investments in hotel and restaurant infrastructure, designation of park and picnic areas, signage for historic and natural points of interest and linkages between outside investors and local residents, said Martin.
“As a PRT, we have spent most of our time and effort building up the basic infrastructure for the province. Now we believe it’s time, and it’s possible, for the private sector to work with the provincial authorities to develop tourism here. The United States will have a long-term development relationship with Panjshir and Afghanistan; we believe that tourism is a realistic approach to developing the economy of the province further,” he said.
One of the issues addressed by numerous speakers during the conference was the support needed by the local community.
“One of the main things we need to work on is a public awareness campaign,” said Kabiri. “Tourists are not coming here to take things from us or make fun of our culture.”
The deputy minister stressed tourism is a way to preserve one’s culture; not take away from it and it’s vital that locals understand that.
“Our duty is to secure and save our culture; tourism plays an important role in the economic development of a country,” said Farahi. “Introduction of this to our culture is very important.”
He said the conference provided a first step in making tourism in Panjshir a reality.
“We’re very excited about the prospects for tourism in Panjshir,” said Kabiri. “We’re looking forward to our colleagues from far places seeing how beautiful Panjshir is and showing them the many opportunities we have for them to invest.”