Nepal's tourism rebounds despite major quake, trade embargo

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Kathmandu, Jan 12 (IANS) Nepal's tourism industry rebounded in 2016 after taking a big hit in the previous year by way of twin disasters -- a devastating earthquake and crippling trade embargo.

Foreign tourist arrivals to Nepal jumped 39.71 per cent to 753,002 in 2016 -- boosted by robust visitor growth from India, China, the US, UK and Sri Lanka, according to statistics released by the Department of Immigration.

According to The Kathmandu Post, however, 2016 arrivals were still 4.69 per cent down from 2014 when the country welcomed 790,118 foreign visitors.

The tourism boom is expected to continue in 2017 and remains a major economic growth driver even as the industry sees low overseas promotional activities.

A breakdown of arrivals by market shows Indian travellers at the top of the list. Arrivals from the southern neighbour reached 118,249 last year -- up 57.40 per cent. 

Chinese tourist arrivals jumped 55.26 per cent to 104,005. Travel trade entrepreneurs said Chinese arrivals did not increase as expected last year as the key entry point, Tatopani Customs in Sindhupalchowk, was closed after the April 2015 earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people. 

However, Rasuwagadhi has emerged as an important surface route with 23,452 Chinese visitors entering the country through this point last year.

Meanwhile, visitors from the US, Sri Lanka and the UK jumped 25.67 per cent, 29.64 per cent and 55.71 per cent, respectively.

October, November and December were the most busy months for the industry, accounting for nearly one-third of total arrivals during the year.

"It's a dramatic growth. The industry is returning rapidly to its pre-earthquake growth level," said Kedar Neupane, Director General of the Department of Immigration. 

"The tourism boom is expected to continue in 2017 given a level of promotion by Nepal in the major source markets."

He said that if the government, Nepal Tourism Board and private sector conduct aggressive promotional activities, this year could be an extraordinary year. 

"We can expect 1 million tourists in 2017 considering the current environment," Neupane said.

According to Neupane, Nepal could see a boom in Chinese arrivals this year following Beijing's announcement of Nepal Tourism Promotion Year 2017 in a bid to encourage its citizens to visit the Himalayan nation.

"The industry carried out massive marketing activities after the earthquake, leading to the recovery," said tourism entrepreneur Basant Raj Mishra. 

"The arrival of foreign volunteers as well as conferences held by NGOs in Nepal last year contributed to the growth."

Suman Pandey, chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Nepal Chapter, said 2017 looked promising; but the crumbling Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), Nepal's only international aerial gateway, could be a major setback.

"The hospitality industry in Nepal can accommodate more than 3 million tourists, but the airport is already choked with capacity constraints even though arrivals are way short of the one million mark," he said.

Global travel guide Lonely Planet has named Nepal the world's 'best value destination' for 2017. 

Likewise, Nepal's Langtang region has been featured in The New York Times' '52 places to go in 2017' list.

Nepal has also appeared in the January travel issue of China Daily. 

"Nepal remains a fabulous choice for budget-conscious travellers, whether it's the country's world famous trekking routes or the wildlife in the southern region. Travel costs per day are as low as $50 on average," it said.

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