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Web Desk
December 19, 2018

Pakistan expects record tourists next summer following British Airways announcement


Web Desk
Wed, Dec 19, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is expecting a record number of tourists visiting country citing several positive developments taking place following improvement in security situation including revival of British Airways operations.

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A close aide of Prime Minister Imran Khan and senior member of Federal Cabinet, Asad Umar stated that since Portugal has dropped all the travel advisories and the British Airways is starting Pakistan flights a record number of tourists is expected next summer in the country.

“Victory against the terrorists bearing fruit of reducing isolation of Pakistan,” the finance minister further added.

- Vote of confidence -

British Airways will resume flights to Pakistan next summer, the carrier announced Tuesday, in a major vote of confidence from a Western airline a decade after suspending operations due to security fears.

The British carrier, which halted services in 2008 after the deadly Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad, will return in June 2019 with three weekly flights from London’s Heathrow airport to the Pakistani capital, airline officials said.

BA had six weekly flights to the Pakistani capital before the Marriott attack, which killed more than 50 people and triggered a major drawdown by embassies and international agencies over safety concerns.

The carrier’s announcement was "a reflection of the great improvements in the security situation in Pakistan" in the years since, said British High Commissioner to Pakistan Thomas Drew in a statement.

"We only fly somewhere when we know it’s safe to do so," Robert Williams, BA’s head of sales for Asia, told a press conference in Islamabad.

Tickets starting at $630 were due to go on sale from Tuesday.

BA said the route -- which will be serviced by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner -- is among four direct long-haul flights being introduced in 2019, along with Pittsburgh and Charleston in the US, and Osaka in Japan.

The announcement caused a stir on Twitter, where it was greeted with jubilation by many Pakistanis.

The army tweeted its gratitude to the airline using the hashtag #PeacefulPakistan, while the government’s official account proclaimed the country a "new investment destination of Asia".

- Dramatic shift -

Britain is home to more than a million residents of Pakistani origin, making it the largest Pakistani diaspora community in Europe.

The struggling Pakistan International Airlines is currently the only carrier with direct flights between the two countries.

Since the Marriott attack the country has been largely dependent on Middle Eastern airlines such as Emirates and Etihad, with most international flights routed through the Gulf, making travel expensive and cumbersome for many passengers.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific was one of the last major international carriers to cease operations in Pakistan after dozens were killed during a 2014 siege at Karachi airport by Taliban militants.

Pakistan has battled homegrown militancy for nearly 15 years, with tens of thousands of people killed.

But the country has seen a dramatic turnaround recently, with security largely stabilised following several military offensives along the Afghan border and crackdowns on insurgents in urban centres.

- Tourism -

The announcement came after Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to revitalise Pakistan’s struggling tourism industry in effort to bring in much-needed revenue to its fragile economy.

Pakistan has a rich cultural and archaeological heritage, along with serene alpine valleys, pristine beaches and vast deserts peppered with vibrant Islamic shrines.

The country is also home to some of the world’s tallest peaks including K-2 -- the second highest summit after Everest, which sits atop a region of 120 other mountains rising above 7,000 metres (23,000 feet).