In their quest to visit all things new, Chinese tourists are now setting their sights on Pakistan as a tourist destination. This follows the announcement by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who has designated 2007 as "Visit Pakistan Year."
"Pakistan is a land of great splendor, which has remained largely undiscovered and has a lot to offer tourists coming to visit our country," said Musharraf on December 15, 2006.
To promote its tourism industry, Pakistan's Ministry of Tourism recently invited over 200 people from the media and various tourism agencies in 40 countries to take part in the "2007 Visit Pakistan Year" inaugural ceremony in the nation's capital of Islamabad, where Musharraf was a guest of honor.
Pakistan was officially designated as a destination for outbound Chinese tourists in November 2003 in a joint declaration of bilateral cooperation signed by Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Musharraf. The declaration says that the two parties will increase the number of tourists, expand tourism markets and enhance tourism promotion.
"2007 Visit Pakistan Year" is an important part of this process. To cater to the expected increase in travelers to Pakistan, the China International Travel Service (CITS) launched a special promotion campaign last December to attract Chinese tourists to visit the country. CITS marketing officer Yang Jun said that the Buddhist heritage, art of painting on buses, handicrafts and scenic spots in the northern areas of Pakistan are the main attractions for Chinese tourists.
Salman Bashire, Pakistani Ambassador to China, said there is a lot of interest among Chinese to visit Pakistan during the "2007 Visit Pakistan Year" program. Evidence of this was in the large number of visas now being issued to travelers.
The Pakistani Government has relaxed visa restrictions, making it much easier to travel.
With safety being one of the main concerns of Chinese traveling to Pakistan, a country that has had its share of internal conflict in the past, Musharraf said that ensuring law and order is the responsibility of the government and adequate steps have been taken in this regard. He urged countries that have posted a "travel advisory" for their citizens traveling to Pakistan to remove it.
While meeting with journalists and travel service representatives on December 16, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz urged foreign visitors to explore Pakistan's natural beauty and archaeological sites.
Pakistan has five of the 14 highest mountain peaks in the world and there are tremendous opportunities for hiking, mountaineering and many other sports. The scenic plain of the Punjab boasts one of the biggest canal networks in the world.
To cater to the increasing number of international tourists, four new modern hotels are under construction in the capital Islamabad and a new airport is being planned.
One of the biggest advantages a nation receives through tourism activities is, of course, the revenue it generates. This revenue helps in restoring monuments, opening museums, establishing national parks and other areas, said the prime minister.
As the tourism industry grows, so does the need to develop a strong infrastructure. Constructing new airports, roads, ports, sewage and water treatment plants means a better standard of living for the country's local population, said Aziz.
"Among the government's proactive steps for the encouragement of the industry, a tourist-friendly visa policy and tax exemptions to private entrepreneurs have all become fundamental policies of the state for 2007," he said.
In her welcome address, Pakistani tourism minister Nilofar Bakhtiar highlighted various features of the 2007 line-up for tourists. They include cultural shows such as the Shogran Festival, a colorful cultural event at the gateway to the Himalayas; adventure sports such as the International Mountain Bike Race at Kaghan and the International Mountain Marathon at Hunze; religious tours like Gandhara Week, a historical review of the world's ancient Buddhist civilization; and the Silk Road Festival, an opportunity to set foot on the everlasting and famous road link between Pakistan and China.
The minister said it is a modest start by the Ministry of Tourism, adding that it will promote a soft image and project a better perspective for the country.
Pakistan is quite different from the way it has been projected and perceived outside the country. Therefore, with the promotion of tourism, this perception will also be improved, said President Musharraf.