By CB Adhikari, Kathmandu, April 13: The country witnessed the arrival of around 100,000 foreign tourists throughout the month of March, the largest number since the global COVID-19 pandemic hit the country towards the end of 2019.
The encouraging inflow of foreign tourists has revived the hopes of bringing back the tourism industry marred by the deadly infection, said the stakeholders. According to data from the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), 99 thousand 426 foreign tourists visited Nepal throughout March 2023.
The influx of foreign tourists has increased since the beginning of the year 2023, they said. A total of 55,074 tourists visited Nepal throughout January 2023, and 73,255 in February. A total of 1,197,091 foreign visitors arrived in 2019, just before the virus struck.
In the following years, the number sharply dropped 81 per cent in 2020 to 230,085, and to 150,962 in 2021. The Nepali year, 2079, has overall been the year of the revival of tourism, and the increasing inflow of tourists has encouraged, said the NTB director Maniraj Lamichhane.
"Overall, 2079 BS has been satisfactory in terms of tourism. The influx of tourists has been on an upward spiral in each preceding month. The arrival of tourists increased since mid-July, 2022. Each preceding month saw over 70 per cent increments in the arrival of tourists. Around 80 per cent revival from the affected tourist arrival has taken place towards the end of 2079 BS," he said.
The mobility of domestic tourists has also increased, according to him. In 2078 BS and 2079, the mobility of tourists increased around 120 and 130 per cent respectively, he said.
In the year 2079 BS, tourism infrastructures were added. Investment in hotels and restaurants soared and the entry of international chain hotels began.
Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN) first vice-president Binayak Shah said the year 2079 BS was in overall encouraging for the tourism industry. As he said, his community assessed the period as the "Year of Tourism Improvement". Lately, the arrivals of tourists and the trend of hotel booking are positive and it should be further increased. He was of the opinion of promoting air connectivity and strengthening rural roads.
The year brought hope for the mountaineering sector as well. Director General of the Department of Tourism, Hom Prasad Luitel said 512 people have taken permissions for the climbing of 21 peaks in the spring season, 2079 BS and the revenue collection stood at Rs 310.03 million and of them, the highest number of climbers are for Mt Everest, 60 for the Lhotse and 56 are for the Annapurna expedition.
Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents ( NATTA) President Ramesh Thapa evaluates that the year 2079 BS remained as the 'improvement year for the tourism industry', sending encouragement to the tourism sector.
Foreign tourist arrivals are increasing gradually. International flights suspended with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic have been resumed. The number of Chinese tourists in Nepal has soared with China easing travel restrictions for the citizens and these all have raised hope in the business, according to Luitel.
In view of Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN) President Nilhari Bastola, the 2079 BS was overall encouraging for the tourism business. "The latest improvement in the tourism indices suggests the business is booming."
A significant number of Chinese tourists have started visiting Nepal, which was almost stopped for around three years due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Chinese government has listed Nepal in the list where its citizens could visit Nepal freely as well as travel agencies have started selling packages to Chinese tourists for Nepal visits from March 15.
One hundred eight Chinese tourists have arrived in Nepal on a chartered flight of Himalaya Airlines today, the last day of this year.
As per the details of the Nepal Tourism Board, 2,635 tourists visited Nepal in May, 2,266 in February and 1,436 in January 2023.
A total of 169,543 Chinese tourists entered Nepal in 2019. It is expected that number of Chinese tourists visiting Nepal would increase as Nepal-China flights are now in operation. Three different airlines in China have been making flights to Nepal and Himalaya Airline has been operating its flights at different destinations in China from Nepal.
According to the Department of Industry, the commitment of around Rs 24 billion investment has been received for the establishment of 56 different hotels and restaurants from April 14, 2022, till the date where 4,221 people would get employment.
Similarly, the commitment of investment of Rs 9.41 billion has been received from different countries in the hotel and restaurant sector.
Chairperson of Hotel Association Nepal Binayak Shah said there are a total of 10,000 hotels from five-star to tourist-level in Nepal. More than one dozen five-star hotels are going to be added within the next one and a half years. Around 4,000 hotels are associated with HAN.
A leap in aviation infrastructure
The year 2079 BS was a year of achievement in terms of the construction of aviation infrastructure. Two international airports have been added to the country this year. The Gautam Buddha International Airport was inaugurated on May 16, 2022, as the second international airport while the Pokhara International Airport on January 1, 2023, as the third international airport of the country.
However, international flights have not been operated out of Pokhara International Airport and the Bhairahawa Airport also has not received satisfactory business.
Three international airports, including Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), are in operation in the country at present.
A number of internal airports have been upgraded. Night flights are operating in the hub airports in the Tarai region. The operation time of domestic sector flights has been extended to 18 hours daily while the international airports are operational round the clock.
CAAN's activeness in strengthening aviation safety
The Tara Air plane crash in Mustang on May 29, 2022, and the Yeti Airlines air crash in Pokhara on January 15, 2023, have added challenges to air safety in Nepal. Recently on April 9, a helicopter belonging to Heli Everest which was returning to Pokhara from Dhaulagiri base camp crashed and incidents as technical glitches in Shree Airlines aircraft on the flight have indicated the need to further strengthen aviation safety in Nepal.
The regulatory body, CAAN, too has sprung into action in making the aviation sector safe and efficient. CAAN has shown its concern through various ways and means to make improvements in the services of the domestic and international airline companies operating in Nepal in order to render them secure and reliable.
It has taken action against pilots not fulfilling the flight standards and those showing negligence during flight. The regulatory body has issued necessary directives to the airline companies after studying their financial and managerial capacity. CAAN has carried out inspection and investigation and brought to book some companies in a bid to promote abidance of aviation safety standards and improve the quality of service.
In recent months alone, it has been carrying out inspections on the service and flight operations of more than a dozen of airline companies and taking necessary action against the erring ones.