GILGIT: In the summer season of 2023, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) witnessed a notable influx of over 2,050 foreign climbers and trekkers, apart from around 9,000 foreign tourists.

The GB government collected Rs40.5 million in permit fees for climbing peaks during this period.

The tourism department reported that over 9,000 foreign tourists, including paragliders and trekkers in open zones, explored GB in 2023.

Among the visitors, 2,050 foreign climbers and trekkers endeavoured to ascend various peaks, including the renowned five eight-thousanders: K2, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum-I, Gasherbrum-II, and Broad Peak. This marked the highest number of foreign tourists visiting the region in the past two decades.

Tour operators suggested that implementing specific measures could further attract a greater number of foreign tourists, while simultaneously criticising the role of the tourism department.

Visa hurdles forced many to reconsider, cancel plans; govt made Rs40m in revenue

Numerous foreign tourists faced challenges visiting GB due to visa complexities and related issues. Mohammad Ali, representing the Pakistan Association of Tour Operators, pointed out what he called the intricate and time-consuming nature of the visa process. According to him, obtaining a Pakistan visa after application takes several months.

“The prolonged delays and security clearance procedures compel many foreigners to abandon their plans to visit Pakistan,” Mr Ali said.

Asghar Ali Porik, a tour operator from GB, pointed out the complications faced by foreign tourists, mountaineers, and trekkers in applying for visas. He noted that the online visa application form, available on the official website, is only in English, restricting tourists from countries with other languages.

Mr Porik explained that there are two visa categories for Pakistan: tourist visa and mountaineering/trekking visa. The dual categories sometimes confuse foreigners during the application process. Although the tourist visa is supposed to be issued within a week, and the mountaineering/trekking visa within a month, the actual issuance after security clearance often takes more time. This uncertainty causes foreigners to reconsider and, in some cases, cancel their planned visits to Pakistan.

A significant number of foreign tourists encountered difficulties when attempting to visit GB due to visa complexities and associated issues. Mr Ali, a representative of the Pakistan Association of Tour Operators, stressed the intricate and time-consuming nature of the visa application process. According to him, obtaining a visa for Pakistan after application requires several months.

Mr Ali underscored that the extended delays and security clearance procedures force many foreigners to reconsider and ultimately abandon their plans to visit Pakistan. Mr Porik, a tour operator from GB, highlighted the challenges faced by foreign tourists, mountaineers, and trekkers when applying for visas. He pointed out that the online visa application form, accessible on the official website, is available only in English, posing a limitation for tourists from countries with different languages.

Mr Porik elaborated on the two visa categories for Pakistan: tourist visa and mountaineering/trekking visa.

“The existence of these dual categories sometimes causes confusion among foreigners during the application process. Despite the tourist visa’s supposed issuance within a week and the mountaineering/trekking visa within a month, the actual issuance after security clearance often takes more time,” he said.

“This uncertainty prompts foreigners to reconsider and, in certain instances, cancel their planned visits to Pakistan,” he added.

Published in Dawn, january 1st, 2024

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