With Nepal’s tourism industry bouncing back fast in the post-COVID situation, it is necessary for the government and the private sector to focus on creating new tourist attractions and highlighting the country as a preferred destination in the global market. The nation holds unlimited tourism potentials in view of its unrivalled natural and cultural heritages. But these resources have not been utilised fully. However, the country’s tourism industry has now been on a track to recovery. In 2023, the nation was able to receive more than one million foreign travellers. The government has announced the period between 2023 and 2033 as the Visit Nepal Decade with a goal of developing the country into an important tourist destination. Under this decade-long tourism campaign, the government aims to attract more tourists and generate one million extra jobs in the tourism sector within two years. To materialise this ambitious plan, much needs to be done when it comes to diversifying tourism, upgrading the existing tourist facilities and services, marketing destinations and revising policies and laws.
The government has also planned to increase average daily tourist spending to US$ 125 from the prevailing US$ 48. It has given thought to this bearing in mind that the number of tourists alone is not important. How much money the nation earns from tourism holds significance. But considering the current scenario, this goal is unlikely to be achieved as no momentous steps have so far been taken to sustain tourism growth. It is imperative to work out plans for lengthening the stay of tourists in order to increase incomes from tourism. For this, creation of new tourist spots is essential. We cannot attract repeat visitors without offering something new to them to experience.
The first month of 2024 proved to be quite favourable for Nepal’s tourism. Last month, the nation hosted as many as 79,100 international tourists. With a total of 24,139 visitors, India topped other tourist generating countries. In January last year, more than 16,400 Indians came to Nepal. In the same month last year, the country was able to welcome 55,074 tourists only. As the saying goes—morning shows the day, the year 2024 may also be quite encouraging for the country’s tourism. China emerged as the second key tourist source market for Nepal, with 7,267 tourists, while a total of 7,047 travellers from the United States came here to experience the Nepali hospitality in January this year.
It goes without saying that the tourism sector had suffered an unprecedented loss due to COVID-19 for two consecutive years starting 2020. The nation had witnessed an alarming level of loss in tourism-related jobs and revenue owing to the protracted global public health crisis. Several tourism entrepreneurs had also been displaced while much investment had been wasted. However, with a gradual recovery of the tourism business in the country, many of such jobs have now been restored. If tourist arrivals continue to show their upward trend, the tourism sector is likely to provide more new jobs.
Yet, the situation is still challenging because of the existing global recession. This may have a negative impact on the tourism industry for 2024 as well. When any financial crisis emerges, travellers do not want to spend much time and money. In such a tricky situation, they tend to visit only short-haul destinations instead of long-haul ones. Therefore, Nepal now needs to make additional efforts to tap the boundless India and Chinese markets. With increased air connectivity between Kathmandu and numerous cities of these immediate neighbours, Nepal can bring in more tourists from there.
As part of its initiatives to facilitate the movement of tourists into Nepal, the government has now launched an e-visa system and online visa fee payment services. Such digital services are expected to have positive implications for the nation’s tourism sector. Because of these services, customers are not required to visit the immigration office physically for applying for visa, paying fee, and receiving new visas. However, they now need to go for the Nepali banking channel to make payments for e-visa.
Once the Nepal government opens a dollar bank account, potential foreign tourists can apply for e-visa from any part of the world, enabling them to pay for visa fees through any foreign bank. Upon approval, they will get a notification with QR code through their respective email accounts. Then, they can pay for visa. When those tourists get to the immigration desk at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), they get an e-visa sticker attached to their passport. So, unlike in the past, the visiting tourists will get a hassle-free serve while getting through the immigration process. Those foreign visitors willing to trek to restricted areas like the Upper Mustang can also get permit without delay. The Department of Immigration (DoI) must ensure that these electronic travel automation services are available without any interruption so as to facilitate tourists.
It is needless to say that tourism, as a multi-dimensional industry, contributes to creating employment opportunities, making foreign exchange earnings and supporting numerous auxiliary sectors such as horticulture, vegetable farming, animal husbandry and handicraft. This sector also plays a crucial role in enhancing social development as tourists are found extending their support for constructing schools and hospitals in remote rural areas of the country. Having recognised the importance of tourism, the provincial and local governments have also prioritised it. However, they still need to go a long way for the development of this vital sector of the national economy.
(The author is a deputy executive editor of this daily.)