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More foreign tourists are visiting Afghanistan each year, and the Taliban want more

Simon Calder’s Travel

Around 30 men are crammed into a Kabul classroom, part of the debut student cohort at a Taliban-run tourism training institute.

One student is a model. Another is 17 and has no job history.

They are all men — Afghan women are banned from studying beyond sixth grade — and they don’t know anything about tourism or hospitality. But they are all eager to promote a different side of Afghanistan. And the Taliban are happy to help.

Afghanistan’s rulers are pariahs on the global stage, largely because of their restrictions on women and girls. The economy is struggling, infrastructure is poor, and poverty is rife.

And yet, foreigners are visiting the country, encouraged by the drop in violence, increased flight connections with hubs like Dubai, and the bragging rights that come with vacationing in an unusual destination. The numbers aren’t huge.

In 2021, there were 691 foreign tourists. In 2022, that figure rose to 2,300. Last year, there were 7,000.

A general view of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Mohammad Saeed, the head of the Tourism Directorate in Kabul, said the biggest foreign visitor market is China because of its proximity and large population. Afghanistan also has advantages over some of its neighbors.

“They’ve told me they don’t want to go to Pakistan because it’s dangerous and they get attacked. The Japanese have said this to me also,” Saeed said. “This is good for us.”

But there are disadvantages, too.

Visas are difficult and expensive to access. Many countries severed ties with Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power, and no country recognises them as the legitimate rulers of the country.

Afghan embassies either closed or suspended their operations. There’s an ongoing power struggle between Afghanistan’s embassies and consulates staffed by people from the former Western-backed administration, and those under the Taliban administration’s full control.

Saeed concedes there are obstacles for Afghan tourism to develop but said he was working with ministries to overcome them.

His ultimate aim is to have a visa on arrival for tourists, but that could be years away. There are problems with the road network, which is half-paved or non-existent in some parts of the country, and airlines largely avoid Afghan airspace.

The capital Kabul…

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