Gilgit-Baltistan Tourism Minister Raja Nasir Ali Khan on Sunday said that as many as 700,000 tourists – including local and foreign – had visited the mountainous region over the last three months.
“The significant surge in tourists’ footfall in G-B has helped the sector revive, which was affected last year due to coronavirus related travel curbs,” he told APP on the phone.
Khan, who also heads the portfolios of sports, culture, archaeology, and youth affairs, said that tourism has come back in G-B where so far up to 700,000 local and foreign tourists thronged during the ongoing summer season to enjoy its mesmerizing weather and eye-catching mountainous terrain.
The statistics shared by the minister was of the last three months, as tourism season started this year after Eidul Fitr when the restrictions on the sector lifted, provided that the anti-coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs) would be observed at all tourist destinations.
The National Command and Operation Centre has recently declared vaccination certificates mandatory for hotel bookings for tourists visiting G-B, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
“We are allowing any tourist to G-B and there is no plan for imposing a ban on tourism,” said Raja Nasir who asserted that implementation of anti-coronavirus SOPs in the area was being ensured to keep the virus at bay.
He said the G-B government, in collaboration with the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), was taking multiple initiatives to boost tourism by improving air access to the area.
The PIA was carrying four to five flights from various cities to GB every week, he said, adding that negotiations were under way with Nepal and Gulf countries to start one international flight to the area as an experiment.
He said the short-term strategy was opted to improve infrastructure in the area, citing home stay financing as an example to meet the accommodation needs of tourists and empower locals through soft loans.
“Road infrastructure is being upgraded,” he said, “Incomplete road projects left by the previous government is being completed on warfooting to improve tourists’ access to the new and unexplored tourist sites in G-B.”
He said the G-B government’s main focus was to promote the valley as a winter sports and adventure tourism destination by arranging festivals and competitions.
Ice hockey tournament, skating and skiing competitions, and K-2 winter summit arranged last year in G-B got an overwhelming response from local and foreign tourists, he added.
Highlighting the decline in foreign tourists’ arrival to the destination, he said that around 40 per cent of adventure tourist groups cancelled their tour due to the pandemic.