ISLAMABAD: Tourism comes back to scenic Gilgit Baltistan (GB) 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. Gilgit-Baltistan’s Minister for Tourism, Sports, Culture, Archeology, and Youth Affairs Raja Nasir Ali Khan informed on Monday that the significant surge in tourists’ footfall in GB had helped the sector revive, which was affected last year due to coronavirus related travel curbs. The statistics shared by the minister were of the last three months, as tourism season started this year after Eid-ul-Fitr when the restrictions on the sector were lifted, provided that the anti-coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs) would be observed in letter and spirit at all tourist destinations. The National Command and Operation Centre has recently declared vaccination certificates mandatory for hotel bookings for tourists visiting Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “We are allowing any tourist to GB 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 GB government, in collaboration with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), was taking multiple initiatives to boost tourism by improving air access to the area. The minister said PIA was carrying four to five flights from various cities to GB every week, adding that negotiations were underway with Nepal and Gulf countries to start one international flight to the area as an experiment. He said a short-term strategy was opted to improve infrastructure in the area, citing homestay financing as an example to meet accommodation needs of tourists and empower locals through soft loans. Road infrastructure was being upgraded, he said, adding incomplete road projects left by the previous government were being completed on war-footing to improve tourists’ access to the new and unexplored tourist sites in GB. He said the GB government’s main focus was to promote the valley as a winter sports and adventure tourism destination by arranging festivals and competitions. Ice hockey tournaments, skating and skiing competitions, and the K-2 winter summit arranged last year in GB got overwhelming response from local and foreign tourists, he added. Highlighting decline in foreign tourists’ arrival to the destination, he said around 40 percent of adventure tourist groups cancelled their tour due to the pandemic.