Chinese President Xi Jinping’s two-day state visit to Nepal is likely to have a momentous impact on Nepal’s tourism sector that holds the potential to transform the national economy. Nepal is observing 2020 as Visit Nepal Year with a goal of bringing in two million tourists to the country, up from around 1.2 million in 2018. The country expects some 500 thousand Chinese tourists to visit Nepal in 2020. Nepal has always been in good books of China and Chinese citizens as the two countries enjoy excellent bilateral relations. And President Xi’s visit at this point of time will surely give a great boost to Nepal’s tourism campaign. Moreover, Xi’s announcement in an article printed in this daily the other day as well as the State Banquet organised by President Bidya Devi Bhandari in his honour Saturday evening that China would assist Nepal in hosting the Visit Nepal Campaign and promoting tourism will have a great impact on Nepal’s tourism.
In his article, President Xi has also mentioned that China has a large population following Buddhist religion who would like to pay a visit to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. He has said the two countries will work towards increasing cultural and religious exchanges between the two counties. In 2018, about 160 thousand Chinese had visited Nepal only exceeded by Indians and the number of visitors from the northern neighbour is growing by around 10 per cent annually. This number is likely to go up significantly as President Xi has expressed commitment to improve connectivity between the two countries and promised support to conduct feasibility study of Kerung-Kathmandu railway, build Kerung-Kathmandu tunnel way and upgrade Arniko highway. These infrastructures will have a far-reaching impact on enhancing people-to-people relation between the two countries.
Currently, Chinese tourists mainly rely on air connectivity; there are about 60 weekly flights between the two countries and some 300,000 people move across the border. The two neighbours have lately signed agreements to operate flights from 15 additional Chinese cities. On the Nepali side, Himalayan Airlines is preparing to operate flights between Kathmandu and Beijing and Nepal Airlines is also making preparations to operate flights to Beijing and Guangzhou. China is also providing indirect support to Nepal’s tourism through the development of civil aviation sector. Chinese companies are involved in the construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa and Pokhara International Airport which will play a vital role in attracting more tourists to the country. Besides, China is also assisting Nepal to reconstruct its cultural heritages – Nine-storey Basantapur Palace and Taleju Temple, Seven-storey Nuwakot Palace and Durbar High School, among others, in the wake of 2015 earthquake.
All these initiatives are expected to attract more Chinese tourists to Nepal. The economic condition and purchasing power of the Chinese people has gone up significantly over the years. This is testified by the fact that about 150 million Chinese citizens go to visit various countries around the world and if we can attract only a small portion of this number, we will be able to reap huge benefits. For this, we need to overcome a number of problems facing this prospective sector. They include low capital investment in this sector that has a direct bearing on tourism-related infrastructure and facilities like transportation and communication, hotels and eateries; inadequate means of enjoyment and entertainment for tourists; indifference to protection of natural and cultural heritages; lack of adequate number of tourist information centres; threats to the movement and safety of tourists from one place to another.