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Welcome to Pakistan: Islamabad to issue tourist visa ‘on arrival’ for 24 countries

A view of the picturesque town of Skardu town in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (Twitter photo)
ISLAMABAD: “Tourists welcome to Pakistan,” Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority tweeted over the weekend, unveiling the country’s renewed visa-on-arrival policy for group tourists from 24 countries – a decision praised by the Pakistan Tourism and Development Corporation (PTDC), which its officials had been pursuing for years to expand the tourism industry.
PTDC official Mukhtar Ali, who manages policy and promotion, told Arab News: “This policy was issued with consultation of all stakeholders. It was done in 2007 also but the deteriorating law and order situation impacted the policy which was reversed and a case-to-case visa grant procedure was applied. But the situation has changed now.”
The tweet came after a notification from the interior ministry to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) immigration wing to relax entry for nationals arriving from “tourist-friendly countries,” if the “tour is organized through designated tour operators” in Pakistan.
After arrival, tourists are required to meet an immigration officer for further information and must furnish relevant documents and sign official forms before the granting of a visa.
The FIA can issue a multiple-entry 30-day visa on arrival to nationals of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, China, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Greece, Belgium, Austria, Finland, Iceland, Korea, Portugal, Singapore, Thailand, and Luxemburg.
Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor, managing director of the PTDC, said: “We will focus on overseas Pakistanis and foreign tourists during the year 2018. Visa policy for foreign tourists is required to be reviewed to facilitate more tourists from across the world.”
Ghafoor said that the British Backpacker Society has ranked Pakistan among the 20 top travel destinations for 2018.
Missing from the list are countries of the Middle East and Africa, among others.
“The number of Arab nationals (visiting Pakistan for tourism) is very low. We have focused on tourist-generating countries based on our statistics and the majority come from the West and elsewhere. A large number of them are those that seek mountaineering and adventure tourism,” said Ali.
He said tourism has been increasing gradually over the years but after 2013, after military operations to cleanse militancy and terrorism, the influx has jumped. In 2017, an estimated 1.7 million foreigners visited Pakistan, which is 200,000 more than the previous year, Ali added without specifying the number of tourists and business-related visitors.
Nasir Hussain, owner of Karakorum Explorers, a leading tour operator in Islamabad, told Arab News: “Individuals not part of a group can also visit and link up with a tour operator for discovery trips, safaris, or adventures.” He is enthusiastic that revenue will come to the tourism industry, which has faced losses since 9/11.
He said most of his customers are from European countries but “it would be good to have tourists from the Middle East, though not many travel for tourism or holidays to this destination.”
Pakistan is also allowing a 30-day single-entry business visa on arrival for 68 countries, including the Middle East. A letter of invitation from a Pakistani business entity is required, attached with a recommendation letter from a trade association or Chamber of Commerce and/or one from an investment counsellor or commercial attaché in Pakistan’s Mission Abroad.