Amidst a steady recovery of the tourism industry in Nepal, the government has announced to attract one million international tourists into the country in the upcoming fiscal year 2022/23. In its budget statement, the government has come forward with such a plan to reinvigorate the nation’s tourism sector. As tourism is an important means of creating jobs and earning foreign currencies, it directly supports the national economy as a whole.
The target of welcoming one million tourists seems to be realistic given the improved global tourism scenario in the post-COVID era. With the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths dwindling worldwide, the movement of tourists has been on the rise in many parts of the globe. Like many destinations around the world, Nepal had also faced an unprecedented setback when it comes to tourism development following the outbreak of COVID-19. The restrictions imposed by various nations to contain the pandemic had crippled this sensitive industry on a global scale. With a drastic fall in global tourist arrivals, a lot of tourism-related jobs and other sources of livelihood were lost.
The government must start working out on an effective plan right now to meet the target of bringing in one million tourists. It should join hands with the private sector as it is a key stakeholder. If the COVID-19 contagion does not reemerge, the country is expected to receive more international tourists in the coming autumn even amidst several internal and external problems posing a threat to the susceptible tourism business. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is one of the major obstacles to global tourism recovery.
However, Nepal, as an appealing destination for adventurers as well as cultural enthusiasts, has recorded a significant rise in the number of foreign tourists since the beginning of this year. According to the figures released by Department of Immigration, altogether 190,739 international visitors entered the country in the first five months this year, with around 58,384 arrivals in April and 53,600 in May.
Spring is a major season for mountaineering in the country. This year’s spring saw an encouraging number of expeditions to different mountains, including Mt. Sagarmatha. The data maintained by the Department of Tourism shows that this spring has the highest success rate with almost 70 per cent of climbers being successful in their bids. More than 985 climbers from different countries received permits to attempt various mountains. Of the total climbers, 325 received permit to climb Sagarmatha alone.
The growing attraction towards mountaineering in Nepal is a clear signal that the country’s tourism is on its path to strong recovery. Several new records on mountaineering were also set during the last season. Renowned mountaineer Kami Rita Sherpa has broken his own world record by scaling the world’s tallest peak for 26th time. Pasang Dawa Sherpa has also become the second Nepali to climb the 8,848.68-metre peak for 25th time while Lhakpa Sherpa has set her feet atop Sagarmatha for 10th time, emerging as the first woman to achieve this feat.
Similarly, Priti Bhusal has created history by becoming the first Nepali female medical doctor to scale Sagarmatha. She had set on a mission of recognising the contributions made by frontliners in the fight against COVID-19. Nervin Magar has been successful in carrying the trophy of the 2022 FIFA World Cup to the top of Sagarmatha. The event is scheduled to be held in Qatar from November 21 to December 18 this year.
Meanwhile, Qatari royal family member Sheikha Asma Al Thani has also set a novel record on Sagarmatha. The 32-year-old has turned out to be the first Qatari woman to stand at the roof of the world. A devoted campaigner of women’s empowerment in the Middle East, Thani is a senior official of the Qatar Olympics Committee. Her great achievement on Sagarmatha is sure to contribute to bringing Nepal to global limelight. This may also inspire many female climbers of the Middle East and other regions to follow suit.
With the arrival of monsoon, the country sees fewer tourists as there are chances of rain-induced disasters like flash floods, landslides and inundations. However, in the pre-pandemic times, lots of Indian pilgrims as well as other trekkers and nature lovers come to Nepal even during this ‘off-season’ in order to extend their trip to the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and Bhutan. But China has not reopened yet to foreigners since the emergence of the COVID-19.
However, regular flights between Nepal and China have resumed following an interval of more than two years. Himalayan Airlines has started operating a weekly regular flight between Kathmandu and Kunming since May 31. With the COVID situation in China becoming normal, Chinese carriers are also expected to resume their services to and from Kathmandu in the near future. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, China was the second largest tourist source market for Nepal after India.
However, Nepal has continued to host many Indian tourists following the decline of COVID-19 infections there. As the two immediate neighbours have open borders and better air connectivity, the flow of tourists across the border may go up in the days to come. Many Indians come to Nepal to evade the scorching heat there.
Considering the vast Indian tourism market, it is necessary for the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and the private sector to aggressively carry out tourism promotion campaigns in different cities of the southern neighbour. The NTB needs to play a proactive role in promoting tourism at this critical situation. But the national tourism organisation seems to have been failing to carry out its responsibilities as anticipated.
(Dahal is a Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)