In a historic development, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has launched the largest flight operation to the northern areas as global travel restrictions, stemming from Covid-19, forced the affluent Pakistanis to explore local tourist sites.

“The national flag carrier has launched special flights for the tourists visiting the country’s northern areas during Eid days,” PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan said while talking to The Express Tribune on Friday.

Although bad weather over the past few days affected the flight schedule for the north, still the airline managed to ramp up the number of flights to the highest-ever level, he said.

He pointed out that the national flag carrier would operate six flights to Skardu on Saturday (July 24) alone.

Elaborating, he said that two planes to the city would fly from Karachi, one from Lahore, one from Sialkot, one from Faisalabad and one would be air safari.

The air safari flight will take off from Islamabad and fly over the snowcapped peaks of K2 and Nanga Parbat as well as Saiful Malook Lake. Apart from the regular operation, two additional flights would depart from Islamabad to Gilgit, he revealed.

“The purpose of special flights is to facilitate the movement of tourists during Eid holidays,” he said. “PIA is taking special measures to promote tourism in the northern region.”

Citing figures, he added that the air carrier transported 34,000 passengers to and from Skardu in the past two and a half months.

Tourism in the northern region has grown by three to four times over the past few months. Gilgit-Baltistan alone has recorded a twofold increase in the number of visitors during the period.

“This growth came because international tourists sought to visit Pakistani sites in the wake of foreign travel restrictions,” he said.

“Such visitors buy high-end services.”

Owing to the arrival of a large number of tourists in Skardu, the rent of hotel rooms has tripled to Rs12,000 per day from Rs4,000 earlier.

The fare of vehicles for local visits has also gone up due to a surge in demand. The spokesman pointed out that the demand for hotel rooms was now surpassing the supply, therefore investors were heading to the region to build new hotels or purchase franchises of the existing hospitality chains.

Airbnb, which connects travellers with the home owners willing to offer rooms, is also active in the area.

Road infrastructure has also improved greatly while PIA’s larger flight operation in Gilgit-Baltistan will help stranded passengers, if any, leave the region through the air route.

“Investors are also considering introducing international food chains in the northern areas,” he said.