Pakistan becomes visa-free for many foreign tourists

Islamabad: Encouraged by the positive response from foreign tourist organisations and backpackers, Pakistan has now decided to allow tourists from 24 countries to visit the country without visas.

According to an official statement issued here on Friday by Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior group, tourists from the US, the UK, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and almost all Schengen states would be accorded visas by immigration officials on arrival at any Pakistani airport.

“The tourists will be granted visas for 30 days, with multiple entries allowed,” said the notification posted on the official Twitter account of Civil Aviation Authority. The visa-on-arrival option will be available to group tourists from 24 countries “if the tour is organised through designated tour operators in Pakistan”.

An official of Pakistan Immigration Department of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) explained that the 30-day entry into said the offer is available for the tourists from all “tourism-friendly countries” including Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherland, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, the UK and the US.

The leaflet addressing the foreign tourists says, Pakistan’s “Immigration Wing FIA welcomes you to Pakistan and is committed to your facilitation and making your arrivals and departures smooth and hassle-free.”

The notifications also recognised that “Tourists to Pakistan are an asset for us.”

In case of any complaints or queries, the tourists have been advised to contact an immigration officer at the helpline +92 51 111-345-786. “Please talk to one of the immigration officers or the designated visa officer on arrival for additional information and list of tour operators,” the notification advises visitors.

“This is a positive step in the right direction as Pakistan’s natural beauty and hospitality is famous among international tourists. Visa facilitation will encourage more foreigners to visit which will boost the economy, Najam Ul Hassan, the Director of Karakorum Adventures, an Islamabad-based tour operator company, told Gulf News.

According to Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) data, tourism has been on the rise in Pakistan, as the number of international tourists has tripled to 1.75 million in 2016 as compared to 2013 whereas domestic travellers have jumped 30 per cent to 38.3 million. The tourism sector’s contribution to the economy is estimated to be around Rs2.03 trillion (Dh67 billion) ─ making 6.9 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

“In 2017, the tourism industry made a real difference to the lives of millions of people by driving growth, creating jobs, reducing poverty and fostering development,” said Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation Managing Director Abdul Ghafoor.

The World Tourism Organisation has also come forward to promote tourism in Pakistan during 2018, which has been earmarked as “Tourism facilitation year” by Pakistani officials.

In December 2017, the British Backpacker Society ranked Pakistan as the world’s top travel destination for 2018 by the British Backpacker Society, which described Pakistan as “one of the friendliest countries on earth, with mountain scenery that is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination”.

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