Pakistan, which has been battling with its rising current account deficit has resorted to gaining some economic stability via the revenue-rich tourism industry. On Saturday Islamabad announced its plans to ease the visa restrictions by the introduction of on-arrival visas for 50 countries (covering most of the European countries) and e-visas for 175 countries. The country also proposes to extend the duration of diplomatic visas from one year to three years and that of students’ visas to two years from one year. Also, the business visas will now be provided to citizens of 96 countries, an increase from the previous 68 countries. These visas will be stamped in eight to ten days.
The country is going through cultural reforms to revamp its tourism industry. Minister of Information Fawad Chaudhry told reporters, “Pakistan is a heaven for tourists.” Referring to Himalayan peaks and the Arabian Sea beaches seldom visited by foreigners, he told reporters in Islamabad, “We have mountain tourism, we have beach tourism.”
Chaudhry said that as per the new rules, travel restrictions for foreign journalists will be toned down and they will be permitted to apply for long-term visas, and tourists would also be allowed to visit the politically sensitive Himalayan region of Kashmir and other northern areas, which now require special permission.
Pakistan plans to revamp its image as a popular tourist destination to match up to the glory of the 1970s when the “hippie trail” brought Western travelers through the apricot and walnut orchards of the Swat Valley and Kashmir on their way to India and Nepal.
The country lost its status of preferable tourist destination over serious security lapse and following the harsh interpretation of Islamic laws, which warded off the tourists.
But the government claims to have improved its security over recent years, with a sharp decline in the militant attacks. The country which was believed to be the frontline of terrorism doesn’t want to be defined as a conservative nation with the reputation of supporting militancy.
Things, however, seem to be changing as the state Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation reported that last year tourist arrivals rose to 1.75 million in 2017.