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Pakistan on its way to becoming new global tourism player

Pakistan is well on its track to becoming tourism’s next big thing, The Telegraph reported.

According to the newspaper, the country was once one of the highlights of the classic “hippie trail” or “overland” route from Europe to the Far East, a rite of passage for disillusioned Western youth. Peshawar and Lahore were considered not only safe — but also fine places to kick back for a few days in a budget hostel.

Last month Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a new visa policy for 175 countries to promote tourism and investments in Pakistan.

The countries will get the facility of applying for an online visa. As per the new visa policy, e-visa facility will initially be provided to five countries namely Turkey, China, Malaysia, United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. The citizens of these countries will be able to apply for Pakistani visa via email at a $8 fee.

Jane Westwood who runs Wild Frontiers, one of the few UK operators to offer tours of Pakistan, welcomed the changes.

“The old visa system was very convoluted,” she said. “Both travellers and tour operators needed to file numerous supporting documents and the whole process took two weeks or more — now it can be wrapped up in a matter of hours. It is also significantly cheaper, from £134 down to the equivalent of $60 [£46].”

Westwood also praised the loosening of the No Objection Certificate (NOC) system, under which travellers needed special permission to visit certain parts of Pakistan. These have been scrapped for all but a few border regions, opening up parts of Kashmir, Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan.

“It’s a beautiful country, and one of the most welcoming,” said Westwood. “The mountain scenery is staggering and it’s perfect for trekking, but there are fascinating cities too. Islamabad is leafy and green, with wide boulevards; Lahore has a remarkable Old City, gardens, museums and forts — a real combination of old and new. Then there’s the Kalasha Valleys, which have a unique pagan culture, with traditional lifestyles, dress and festivals.”

She added bookings for Pakistan tours have increased significantly during the past two or three years, an assertion that’s backed up by official tourism statistics.

In 2015, Pakistan welcomed 563,000 overseas arrivals. That figure grew to 965,000 in 2016, 1.6m in 2017 and 1.9m last year. Some of those will be expats of Pakistani heritage visiting friends and family, but it is suggestive of a destination finally about to live up to the oft-applied billing of “tourism’s next big thing”.

Pakistan’s draws — spectacular mountains, ancient civilisations and warm hospitality — aren’t in doubt, but there is the issue of safety.

Last year France and Portugal relaxed their advice on travel to Pakistan; the US suggests its citizens “reconsider travel” to the country, putting it on a par with the likes of Honduras, Sudan and Turkey.

Moreover, British Airways will restart flights in the country from June 2 from Heathrow to Islamabad, marking its first service to the country for a decade.

“The links between Britain and Pakistan are already extraordinary – from culture and cricket to people, politics and education,” said Thomas Drew, the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, when the route was announced last December. “I see this launch as a vote of confidence in the future of those links – and, of course, a reflection of the great improvements in the security situation in Pakistan in recent years.”

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