The federal government on Friday announced plans to ease visa restrictions including offering visas on arrival to visitors from 50 countries and electronic visas to citizens of 175 nations, including the US and Europe, in a bid to revive its tourism sector.
Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza unveiled the plans at a news conference in Islamabad. She pledged authorities would do everything possible to ensure the safety of visiting tourists.
Fehmida Mirza said citizens of 175 countries will be able to obtain visas electronically, over the internet. She said visitors from 50 countries, including America, will be able to get their visas on arrival rather than through Pakistani embassies abroad.
The reforms, approved in Thursday’s meeting of the federal cabinet which was chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan and also attended by Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, would open up a new era for the tourism industry, which was devastated by years of militancy.
Confirming that PTI government was introducing a new revolutionary visa regime to attract tourism and investment in Pakistan, Federal Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain separately told reporters outside the Parliament in Islamabad that Pakistan is a heaven for tourists.
“We have mountain tourism, we have beach tourism,” Fawad said, referring to Himalayan peaks and Arabian Sea beaches seldom visited by foreigners.
Fawad did not identify the countries that would benefit from the new rules but in December, he told Reuters that citizens of most European countries would be granted a visa on arrival.
Tourists would also be allowed to visit the politically sensitive Himalayan region of Kashmir and other northern areas, which now require special permission.
Additionally, the process for acquiring a work visa to nationals of 96 countries for business purposes has been eased, Fawad said, with applicants receiving their visa in 7-10 days after the Board of Investment issues them a letter.
The duration of diplomatic and student visas has been extended from one year to three years, and one year to two years, respectively, while a visa for religious purposes will remain valid for 45 days, the minister added.
The processing of journalist visas will be done through the information ministry, Fawad said, and restrictions on journalists to limit their movements to just three cities have been lifted.
Foreign tourists will not require no-objection certificates to visit open cantonments, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Gilgit Baltistan, Fawad said. “They can go anywhere in Pakistan.”
“We want tourism to be promoted, to become the foundation for change in Pakistan,” Chaudhry said.
The new visa regime comes after some countries eased travel advisories on Pakistan in light of improvements in security.
Pakistan was last a prominent tourist destination in the 1970s when the “hippie trail” brought Western travellers through the apricot and walnut orchards of the Swat Valley and Kashmir.
Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation said last year tourist arrivals rose to 1.75 million in 2017.
Fehmida Mirza said that there was lot of tourism potential in Pakistan so the government wants to further promote it.
“The image of the country has now changed, as now it has no more negative tourism advisory,” said Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Dr.Fehmida Mirza while addressing a press conference. She was optimistic that dozens of beautiful sites within the country would be developed for tourism as the security level issues have been addressed.
To a question about hospitability, the minister said that the behaviour and attitude with the tourists should be good so that it creates good image of the country. “There is a need to develop overall attitude and behaviour with the tourists, as it create a good image of the country,” said the minister.
She said that the promotion of tourism would help increasing economic and social development in the country. “The country’s potential for tourism should be exploited for benefit of the people, as it would create opportunities and jobs for the people of the country,” she said.
A special task force on tourism, minister informed, has started reviewing opportunities and removing the impediments in the way of tourism in the county.
“Prime Minister is interested to enhance it,” she said, mentioning that a special meeting was held with the representatives of all provinces including GB for the promotion of tourism in the country.
Citing the example of Murree hill station, she said other resorts and cites would spread the tourists in different areas once the project would be completed. “The meeting with the representatives of provinces recommended to identify 20 sites of the country. More work would be done for other sites in the country,” she said.
The minister said her ministry will activate social media to market Pakistan’s tourist sites and for this purpose. A Mobile App will also be launched to give details to the tourist to attract them in the country.
“Provinces have been asked to contribute in developing a slogan for tourism promotion in the country,” she said mentioning that these proposals would be submitted to the Prime Minister. “We all need to promote our culture in other world, as all the sites would show the culture of the area,” she said.