Skiiers at the Naltar Ski Resort in Pakistan’s remote mountainous north.


by NADEEM BADSHAH PAKISTAN is set for a tourism boom after British Airways (BA) resumed flights to the country this week for the first time in more than a decade, experts said. The airline is offering three flights a week from Heathrow airport to Islamabad, 11 years after suspending operations following a suicide bombing on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad that killed more than 50 people. Despite security fears, Pakistan has seen its annual visitor numbers soar from 563,000 in 2015 to 1.9 million last year. And the country is expected to become more popular for tourists after prime minister Imran Khan relaxed entry rules for citizens from five countries including the UK, by launching an online e-visa system in April. Labour MP Afzal Khan told Eastern Eye: “After more than a decade of suspension, I think this is a hugely positive step and will help both Pakistan and the UK to attract more investors and visitors. “This will boost the existing link between Pakistan and the UK and strengthen trade between the two countries. “I am excited to see Pakistan’s tourism industry and economy revitalised. It will be fantastic for the British Pakistani community to now have a choice.” In recent years, most restrictions on movement within the country have been lifted. Under the previous system, passengers and tour operators needed to file a number of supporting documents and  securing a visa took at least two weeks. The process is now completed in a few hours and the cost has fallen from £134 to £46, travel professionals said. The nation has been touted as a destination for adventure tourism and charity projects. The Muslim Charity advertised a seven-day trip called Karachi to Kashmir to visit aid projects. Khan also posted pictures on Twitter of the country’s beaches and snow-capped mountains after hosting a tourism summit earlier this year. Zahra Shah, CEO of the British Pakistan Foundation, believes the return of BA flights “will help with overseas investment into Pakistan, particularly the new real estate development projects currently underway in Islamabad.” She told Eastern Eye: “It will also enable fair competition in the airline industry and encourage better service and prices for British Pakistanis travelling to Pakistan.” Solicitor Amjad Malik, who travels frequently to the country, has also welcomed the move. He said: “British Airways’ resumption of flights to Islamabad’s new airport is a vindication of Pakistan’s claim that the international community must not let  them suffer in solitude and must reward rather than punish them for their contribution against terrorism. “One million overseas Pakistanis reside in the UK. The majority hail from the Kashmir region and direct flights from London to Islamabad will [help] as they prefer to go straight to Islamabad. “It will generate community interest, aid the UK’s economy as well as bilateral relations between Pakistan and Britain, and foster tourism in both countries. “Direct flights also save time as all other flights have stopovers and refuelling issues whereas direct flight helps in case of emergencies. “People will have a choice too as there is only a Pakistan International Airlines flight which goes direct from London to Islamabad.” Britain’s official travel advice warns of “a high threat of terrorism, kidnap and sectarian violence” in parts of Pakistan. But Jane Westwood, from Wild Frontiers –one of the few UK operators to offer  tours to Pakistan – said the Foreign Office guidance “does not reflect the reality on the ground”. She said: “It’s a beautiful country, and one of the most welcoming. The scenery is staggering, and it’s perfect for trekking, with fascinating cities too.” A BA spokesman said: “We thoroughly vet all routes and would never fly unless safe.”