PESHAWAR -- A new smartphone application launched by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government is aiming to facilitate the travels of thousands of domestic and foreign tourists as peace returns to the province.
The app, which has been operational since July 3, allows tourists visiting KP to access information regarding archaeological, adventure, religious and cultural sites, as well as the contact numbers of relevant departments, tour operators, hotels and restaurants. Visitors using the app can find trekking and backpacking spots and locate tourist resorts, lakes, rivers and waterfalls.
"We are making all-out efforts to attract around 10 million foreign tourists to KP during our five-year government term," Senior Minister for Sports and Tourism Muhammad Atif Khan said at the launch event in Peshawar. "More projects to promote tourism in KP are in the pipeline."
About 2 million tourists, including many foreigners, visited different parts of KP during the Eid ul Fitr holidays, he said.
KP, with the support of the federal government, has allocated Rs 5.5 billion ($34 million) to promote tourism this year, he added.
The new app, which is free to download, offers a complete social-media component that lets visitors interact with other tourists and allows them to share their experiences, according to the KP Department of Tourism.
Tourists visiting KP are drawn by the natural beauty of the province, such as its green valleys, rivers, landscapes, snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and streams, along with its rich cultural heritage and archaeological sites.
KP also has Buddhist ruins to visit, while areas such as Hazara and Malakand divisions have the potential to attract a large number of foreign tourists if more facilities are provided, officials say.
"Hundreds of thousands of tourists have visited Malakand Division since the first week of June as peace has returned to the area and there is no longer a security issue," Mohammad Saeed Wazir, a regional police officer in Malakand, said in an interview.
A large number of foreigners were among the tourists who attended the traditional Shandur Festival in July, he said.
"Many events are being held in Kalam, Malam Jabba in Swat, Kumrat in Dir and different parts of Chitral and other districts of Malakand Division since the beginning of summer," Wazir said.
Such areas were once under the influence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), preventing tourists from visiting and forcing out tens of thousands of locals.
A military operation in the area coupled with a number of steps made by the government helped return peace to Malakand, and now it brings in hundreds of thousands of tourists, according to government officials.
"Now, foreign tourists can visit any valley of KP without seeking NOCs [No Objection Certificates]," said Qazi Jalal, a member of the social media team of the KP government. Foreigners had been required to have NOCs from the government while travelling to different parts of KP for security reasons.
The tourism app and the ability to travel in KP without an NOC will further encourage foreign and local tourists to visit different areas of the province, Jalal said.
In addition, KP set up a tourist police force in the Hazara and Malakand regions in early June to safeguard the security of tourists and tourism spots and help ensure the smooth flow of traffic.
"We have removed all the unnecessary check-posts in Hazara Division to welcome tourists and other visitors," said Regional Police Officer Hazara Mohamamd Ali Babakhel.
Tourist police are facilitating a large number of tourists coming to Kaghan, Naran, Shogran, Nathiagali and other parts of Hazara, he added.