Nepal Drawing More Korean Tourists

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Nepal is increasingly becoming a popular destination among South Korean travellers. The Himalayan nation hosts thousands of Korean tourists every year. Most of them come here for experiencing various adventure activities such as trekking and mountaineering. They are also interested in getting familiar with Nepali culture and lifestyle.  As Nepal is home to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, and numerous other Buddhist pilgrimage sites, many Koreans following Buddhism enter the country directly by air or via India. Since Korean Air now operates only three flights a week between Seoul and Kathmandu, a lot of Korean tourists are forced to use Chinese and other carriers while travelling to Kathmandu. They have to face inconveniences because of a long transit. Despite all this, the Republic of Korea (RoK) has come out to be among the top 10 tourist source markets for Nepal. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the inflow of Korean visitors into Nepal was increasing significantly. In 2018, nearly 40,000 Koreans travelled to Nepal. 

Rising trend

But Korean arrivals also fell sharply in 2020 and 2021 owing to that global public health crisis. However, together with the revival of global tourism after the waning of the pandemic, the number of Koreans visiting Nepal has also been on the rise gradually. In 2023, the country welcomed around 23,000 Koreans. Considering the rising current trend, more Korean travellers are expected to visit Nepal this year. Extra efforts are being made to attract more Korean tourists into Nepal as the two nations are celebrating the year 2024 as the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between them with the slogan of “Everesting Friendship – Korea-Nepal 50th Anniversary.” ‘The Nepal-Korea Friendship Expedition 2024’ is being organised to mark this occasion. The joint expedition will attempt Jugal I (6,590m) and Jugal II (6,518m) this month. Situated in Jugal Rural Municipality of Sindhupalchowk district, those peaks have remained virgin.  

The expedition is being organised jointly by the Ministry of Tourism, Nepal Tourism Board, Jugal Rural Municipality, Nepal Mountaineering Association, Um Hong Gil Human Foundation, Korean Embassy in Nepal, Korea Tours and Trekking Operator Association of Nepal and Korean Alpine Rescue Association. The seven-member expedition will have four Korean and three Nepali climbers. Renowned Korean alpinist and social campaigner captain Um Hong Gil, who is also an honorary Nepali citizen, will lead the expedition. Captain Um has made a remarkable contribution to Nepal’s education and tourism sectors. The team is scheduled to leave for the base camp of those peaks soon.   

To facilitate and own up the historic expedition, the Government of Nepal has already decided to waive off the royalty fees. Despite being located close to Kathmandu, Jugal I and Jugal II were in the shadow of other peaks. With joint ascent of these peaks, the Jugal area is anticipated to gain popularity among adventurers, especially Korean trekkers and climbers. The expedition will get much publicity and promotion internationally. As captain Um is very popular among Koreans, many Koreans will be showing their interest in following in his footsteps. President of Korean Alpine Rescue Association and Korean Alpine Federation will also be visiting the Jugal area.

As an umbrella organisation of Nepali tour operators handling Korean tourists, the Korea Tours and Trekking Operator Association of Nepal (KTTOAN) has remained dedicated to promoting Nepal in Korea.  Since its inception seven years ago, the association has joined hands with various relevant agencies to bring in more Korean tourists. The world-famous Annapurna Region has been the best destination among Korean nature lover and adventure seekers. While entering the Annapurna Region, especially Annapurna Base Camp, they visit Pokhara. Tour operators say that Koreans have been attracted to that region because of its easy entry and exit. The Langtang Region and the Khumbu Region are the second and third major destinations for them. Lumbini and Chitwan are also important destinations for Koreans.

With the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Nepal and the RoK, more Korean officials are visiting Nepal. Even Korean tour operators and other agencies are sending additional visitors. This is the reason why the number of Korean tourists has continued to rise since the beginning this year.  Nepal has been promoted in Korea effectively, thanks to various sales missions organised jointly by Nepal Tourism Board and KTTOAN. Many more Koreans are also willing to make their way to Nepal to experience adventure and culture. However, much remains to be done to highlight unique Nepali tourism products in the Korean market.  

Bottleneck

Despite the operation of scheduled flights by Korean Air to Kathmandu, there is still a bottleneck in air connectivity between the two nations. Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) is willing to start operating its regular services between Kathmandu and Soul. Citing some technical reasons, Korea’s Office of Civil Aviation has yet to permit NAC to do so. However, efforts are underway in this connection.

Tourism entrepreneurs in Nepal say that the country could see a considerable increase in the number of Korean tourists once NAC is allowed to enter the growing Korean market. Nepali authorities have kept on asking their Korean counterparts to facilitate the commencement of NAC’s direct flight to Korea. Speaking at a programme in Kathmandu recently, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Hit Bahadur Tamang  requested Korean Ambassador to Nepal Park Tae-Young to work together to commence NAC's direct flight from Kathmandu to Seoul. Hopefully, the national flag carrier’s plan will come true sooner or later. 

(The author is a former deputy executive editor of this daily.)

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