Tourism makes reassuring recovery, but more can be done


Kathmandu, Nov. 19: A total of 117,306 tourists came to Nepal by air in October. This is the highest recorded number of tourists to arrive in the country on aeroplanes in a single month. 

Previously, the largest number of tourists to come to Nepal by flights in a month was 113,816. This number was recorded in October 2019. October 2023, however, surpassed that by 3.06 per cent.

So far 809,678 foreign tourists have flown into Nepal in 2023, as per the data compiled by the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). This is 81.30 per cent of the total tourist arrivals by air the country witnessed in 2019, the year immediately before the pandemic and the year that recorded Nepal’s highest tourist numbers ever (995,884 tourists arrived by air and 201,307 arrived via land routes).

These are encouraging numbers that indicate that the nation is on track to meet its target of bringing 1 million tourists in 2023, Mani Raj Lamichhane, director of the Research, Planning and Monitoring Department at NTB, told The Rising Nepal. 

Lamichhane attributes these strong figures to the emphasis Nepal has placed on attracting tourists from its neighbourhood. “We have focused on bringing visitors from the region, from countries like India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and also from Thailand and Myanmar,” he said.

The NTB has also ramped up online and offline marketing of Nepal’s destinations under the Tourism Recovery Plan unveiled last year by the then Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Jeevan Ram Shrestha. Additionally, the Border Tourism Promotion Campaign has been launched to boost tourism along the border areas, Lamichhane informed.

Nepal is also emerging as a popular destination for weddings, he shared. “The weather is very favourable, our hospitality is par excellence, and many things are more affordable here than in other parts of the world,” Lamichhane said. 

The first edition of the Indo-Nepal Wedding Summit was also held in Kathmandu earlier this month. Organised by The Bull, an Indian wedding planning company, the event aimed to market Nepal as an ideal wedding destination for Indian citizens. But, while the efforts are commendable, stakeholders say that the government can and must do more. 

Binayak Shah, president of the Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN), shared that Nepali hotels already had the capacity to serve over three times the number of tourists the country aims to welcome this year. “We are fully able to provide international-standard services to 3.5 million tourists,” he said.

As per the data maintained by the Department of Tourism, there are 18 five-star hotels in Nepal. Shah stated that 20 more five-star hotels were set to open by 2025. “The hoteliers are more than ready to cater to more visitors. Now the government needs to act.”

To realise the nation’s full tourism potential, Shah urged the government to get the newly built Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA) in Bhairahawa and Pokhara International Airport (PIA) in Pokhara hosting regular international flights. “Businesses made great investments expecting the two airports to promote tourism but that did not happen,” he expressed his sadness.

Lamichhane also mentioned that tourist arrivals would have easily surpassed 2019’s pre-pandemic levels had the two international airports come into full operation this year.

Meanwhile, Badri Nepal, president of the Tourist Guide Association of Nepal (TURGAN), called for improving the country’s roads. “There are many attractive tourist destinations outside Kathmandu Valley. But the condition of the roads to reach there are terrible,” he said. For instance, Pokhara is around 200 kilometres from Kathmandu, but it takes six to eight hours to reach there.

“Flight fares are relatively expensive for tourists, so many wish to travel by road. But our motorways are in a bad state,” he added.

Nepal also stressed the need to push up both the quantity and quality of tourism, the quality as measured by spending. The latter, in particular, appears to be on a downward course. As stated in the Nepal Tourism Statistics 2022 report released by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, a tourist spent an average of US$ 40.5 per day of his/her stay in Nepal last year. 

This is down 15.6 per cent from 2021 when the spending was US$ 48 per day and 37.7 per cent from 2020 when it was US$ 65 per day. In 2019, the average daily spending was US$ 48.

It is worth mentioning that the strategic framework designed for the Nepal Tourism Decade 2023-2032 aims to increase tourist spending to US$ 125 per person per day. 

Nepal, like Shah, also emphasised that Nepal needed more tourists. “We have the infrastructure [to handle more visitors]. We need the numbers.”

Globally, tourism recovered to 84 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the January to July period of 2023, according to the latest issue of the World Tourism Barometer published by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). In those six months, tourism in South Asia reached 93 per cent of what it was in 2019.  

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