Pakistan is about to become 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 for disillusioned Western youth. Peshawar and Lahore were considered not only safe — but also fine places to kick back for a few days in an economical hostel.
The incumbent government has taken several steps to give a boost to tourism industry in Pakistan. Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan has inaugurated Pakistan’s online visa regime for foreign nationals of 190 countries along with visa-on-arrival facility for 55 states.
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 efforts of Pakistan in tourism industry.
“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 lauded the new No Objection Certificate (NOC) system, under which travelers do not need special permission to visit certain parts of Pakistan except a few border regions. The move has opened 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 noted that bookings for Pakistan tours have increased considerably during the past two or three years, official tourism statistics prove it too.
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, the numbers leaves no doubts that Pakistan is the tourism’s next big thing.