With easing of international travel advisories following improved security situation and a much-relaxed visa regime, Pakistan is emerging as a high-demand destination for foreign tourists. The new visa policy is thought to be the first step towards reversing a stringent visa regime. With ultra-liberal visa policy the country’s doors are ready to be flung open to legions of global travellers to Asia’s best kept secret.

The prevailing calm has been strengthened by government’s peace overtures in the region. The government is keen to bring about a turnaround in the tourism industry with twin objectives of improving country’s image and increasing tourism sector’s contribution to GDP. It is for the first time in country’s history that huge tourism potential has found equally tremendous will to employ that potential as a force of attraction.

As several foreign carriers including British Airways Air, Air France, Norwegian Air and Saudi airline start resuming flight operations to Pakistan and Portugal and other countries start dropping negative advisories, Pakistan is expecting large influx of visitors this year. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has allowed tour operators to bring tourist groups to Pakistan. The sharp upsurge in tourist arrivals comes also in the backdrop of spectacular take-off of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects woven around the famous Silk Route.

Through an unprecedentedly liberalized visa policy, e-visas will be issued to nationals of 175 countries while the number of countries that would benefit from visa-on-arrival facility has been more than doubled from 24 to 55. Pakistan’s diplomatic missions have been assigned the task of issuing tourist visas to holidaymakers for 90 days. Visa procedures for businessmen have been made simpler and swift for 90 countries as business tourism is on the priority list. The visa fee has also been reduced for the tourists. Under the new tourist friendly framework, movement restrictions have been lifted in Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, known for their awe-inspiring mountainous terrain and immense tourism value.

Soon after taking office Prime Minister Khan formed a National Task Force on tourism. He reorganized Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) and constituted a National Tourism Coordination Board comprising of public and private stakeholders. The private sector has been taken on board to implement government’s economic agenda in which tourism promotion has a special place. Among other things, the Tourism Board is mandated to facilitate provinces in developing regulatory framework, create a strong brand and marketing strategy, and learn from global best practices in sustainable tourism and environment conservation.

A strategy is in place to expand tourism in a smart way beyond the existing tourist spots. The plan is to develop 20 new tourist destinations, and encourage private sector investments for upgrading and developing new facilities for “themed” tourism like ecological tourism as preservation of environment is a central plank of the policy. A key objective is to enhance seamless coordination between provincial tourism departments, travel agents, tour operators and hoteliers.

The work is on for expanding physical and transport infrastructure, charting out tourism policies, renovating and preserving heritage sites and developing national parks. Public sector guest houses are being converted into tourist accommodations in addition to giving easy loans to local people to build guest rooms for tourists. The process is being personally monitored by the Prime Minister who is an ardent enthusiast of nature.

Pakistan’s diverse topography and cultural mix make it the ultimate arena of a thousand achievement-oriented adventures including trekking, mountaineering, white water rafting and extreme kayaking, desert and Himalayan jeep safaris, heli-skiing and trout fishing. Enthralling festivals in different regions of the country including Shandur festival on world’s highest polo ground, Silk Route festival, Sibi Mela, Lok Virsa festival, and colourful spring festivals are looking forward to welcoming the visitors.

American business magazine Forbes listed Pakistan among top ten favourite travel destinations, saying that with startlingly striking landscape coupled with traditional warmth of hosts “there is a grand adventure to be had.” The British Backpacker Society believes that Pakistan is about to join the club of coolest destinations, especially for exciting adventures and breath-taking resorts.

Pakistan has an edge on other regional countries in alluring tourists as it is the only country that has so far remained under-explored. Association of British Travel Agents is of the view that demand for new destinations is the most popular tourist trend. Pakistan’s previously less frequented mesmerizing heritage, stunning spectacles, long coastline, cultural goldmine and foodie heavens are waiting to be experienced.

Another tourist pulling factor is high value tourism with less money as Pakistan is one of the most economical destinations. Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report published by World Economic Forum put Pakistan at 29th position among 136 countries in terms of price competitiveness. Tourists can have access to online competitive tour packages in addition to relishing virtual tours of Pakistan.

The social media is awash with bloggers and v-loggers sharing their thrilling experiences in Pakistan. The brief travelogue of Mark Wiens, renowned American traveller caught instant attention of millions of viewers who said they never knew Pakistan and its people were so beautiful. Whether it is Nora the Dutch biker girl or European travel blogger Eva Zu Beck all went head-over-heels with Pakistan’s beauty as their expeditions changed into a lasting passion for the country. Canadian biker Rosie Gabrielle said she was treated with nothing but love and kindness in Pakistan. V-logger and owner of Food Range YouTube Channel Trevor James is particularly excited about his plan to walk through Lahore’s rambunctious food streets during his forthcoming trip to Pakistan in which he would also present his views in a Tourism Dialogue in Islamabad.

The London-based World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in its last year’s economic impact report said that by 2028 Pakistan would receive over two million international tourist arrivals. Total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP is set to rise to Rs. 4.2 trillion by 2028, the Council says. The study predicts investment in travel and tourism would increase to Rs. 647 billion in 2028 generating over five million jobs in the country by 2028. In 2017, World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness report put tourism related employments in Pakistan at over 1.42 million. The publication forecasts that during next 10 years Pakistan would rank 23rd in 185 countries in terms of travel & tourism direct contribution to GDP while it would rank 12th in terms of tourist arrivals in the same period.

The stunning landscape and culinary delights are greatly enhanced by the welcoming and loving nature of the people. Majority of the tourists in their accounts describe Pakistani folks as kind, large-hearted wearing friendly smiles. This aspect has a great appeal for new-age holidaymakers who want local experiences with destination natives. Alex Reynolds, an American travel blogger wrote that people invited her to stay in their homes and slept on the floor so she could sleep in their bed. Connecting with the people is often mentioned by tourists as the most significant takeaway along with long-lasting memories of enchanting lakes, mighty cliffs, idyllic valleys, or high adrenaline adventures.

The magic of Pakistan comes out of the fascinating blend of land and the people. Thousands of profiles, photos and video clips about Pakistan can be watched on the internet, but the real taste of country’s secret glory lies in experiencing it first-hand.