BHAIRAHAWA, Dec 19: The number of tourists visiting Lumbini is not seeing expected growth, say entrepreneurs.
According to data provided by Lumbini Development Trust (LDT), Lumbini welcomed 1.36 million visitors in the first 11 months of 2019 (January-December). In 2018, the birthplace of Buddha and a UNESCO World Heritage site had attracted 1.53 million tourists.
The government of Province 5 is celebrating the year 2019 as Visit Lumbini Year 2019. The provincial government has spent huge amount of money for promotion of Lumbini. Similarly, Nepal Tourism Board and Visit Nepal Year 2020 Secretariat have also been spending significant amount of money for international marketing and promotion. Despite all these, visitor numbers are not encouraging.
In 2018, Lumbini had welcomed 1.17 million Nepalis, 193,635 Indian visitors and 169,904 third country visitors. According to LDT, tourist arrivals over first 11 months of 2019 is 24,876 higher than arrival figures in the same period last year.
Tourism entrepreneurs say the figures cannot be termed encouraging. Mithun Man Shrestha, president of Lumbini Hotel Association, said, his association had expected at least 25% growth in arrivals. "I don't think we can meet the target now as we have only two weeks remaining," he added.
Entrepreneurs like Shrestha say poor condition of Bhairahawa-Lumbini Road was one of the reasons that affected tourist arrivals this year. The road is under construction but has missed deadlines. Similarly, visitor footfall was affected due to lack of promotion and attractive packages.
Chandra Prakash Shrestha, chairperson of Siddhartha Hotel Association, alleged that Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) was not giving due importance to Mayadevi Temple in its international marketing and promotional activities. "They are only promoting Pashupatinath, Swayambhunath, Pokhara and Sauraha," he said.
Shrestha also said that tourism entrepreneurs were investing more than the government for promotion of Lumbini. "A 30-member team participated in International Buddhist Travel Mart organized on December 10-12 in Bodh Gaya, India, for promotion of Lumbini. There is a need to promote more in India," he added.
Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forests and Environment, Province 5, has announced 2019 as Visit Lumbini Year. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari had officially inaugurated the campaign on May 18. The main objective of the campaign is to spread information of world peace from Lumbini and to increase the number of tourists. But tourist numbers are not increasing.
According to LDT, tourists from 113 countries visited Lumbini till November this year. Of them, the highest arrivals are from Sri Lanka followed by Myanmar, Thailand, China and Vietnam.
Data shows 46,977 Sri Lankan tourists visited Lumbini in the first 11 months of 2019. Next on the list were Myanmar with 26,316 visitors, Thailand with 23,704, China with 18,668 and Vietnam with 7,417 visitors.
Lumbini had welcomed 169,904 and 145,796 third country visitors in 2018 and 2017, respectively.
LDT officials, however, say the arrival figures of 2019 do not include the number of tourists visiting Nawalparasi and Kapilvastu.