KATHMANDU, May 12: Nepal has witnessed an encouraging arrival of 326,527 foreign tourists in the first four months of 2023. The figure is 132.67 percent increment as compared to the same period in the previous year, 2022. A total of 140,336 foreign tourists visited the country during the same period in 2022.
The global COVID-19 pandemic hit the tourism sector of the country resulting in a sharp drop in the influx of foreign tourists in the past few years. Just before the pandemic, a total of 420,446 foreign tourists had visited the country in the first four months of the year 2019. In the following years after outbreak of the virus, there was a sharp drop in the inflow of tourists. A total of 220,682 tourists arrived in Nepal in 2020. The figure further dropped to 55,447 in 2021.
Factors like a surge in the inflow of tourists and recovering occupancy of hotels have indicated the revival of the tourism sector from the infection. Director of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) Maniraj Lamichhane said tourism has almost been on track. “Factors like the inflow of foreign tourists, encouraging number of people taking the permit to climb mountains and increasing mobility of tourists at tourism destinations have indicated the revival of the tourism sector. Tourism will soon keep its track by prioritizing one-stop destinations and expediting aggressive marketing,” he said.
The influx of foreign tourists in the first four months of the year 2023 has almost kept up with the figure during the same period in 2019 before the pandemic, which is a positive sign, he said.
There is a need for the rebranding and repositioning of the destination marketing so as to make the tourism sector more dynamic, he suggested.
Projection of the World Tourism Organisation
The World Tourism Organisation has projected the revival of Nepal’s tourism sector until 2023. The organization had projected global tourism including Nepal’s to recover by up to 95 percent.
Factors like the latest tendency of people visiting accessible and nearest destinations, and China remaining open to tourists have added, it said.
The number of foreign mountaineers taking the permit to scale mountains has also been encouraging. Spring this year has witnessed a record highest number of mountaineers who have taken the permit to climb Sagarmatha (Mt Everest), according to the Department of Tourism. During the season, a total of 467 climbers from 44 groups (98 women and 369 men) took permits to climb mountains as of May 9, said Bigyan Koirala, section officer at the mountaineering section of the Department of Tourism, adding that the number could increase. The number of people who have taken the permit to climb mountains this season was a record high in the 70-year history of the ascent of Mt Everest, he said.
People from 65 countries including from Nepal took the permit. Over Rs 660 million was collected in revenue by issuing the permit to scale Mt Everest.
Most of them have reached the base camp of the world’s highest peak, and they are reported to be waiting for good weather conditions, it has been said. Icefall doctors’ team has cleared the route to Camp 4 or the South Col. The expedition team could not push their way ahead due to bad weather conditions above 7,500 meters on Mt Everest, it has been said.
Around 300 roundtrip domestic flights have taken place, said Teknath Sitaula, spokesperson for the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). Nine airlines and 11 helicopter companies are operating domestic flights. Similarly, 27 airlines companies including three Nepali companies are operating international flights. Of the total 54 airports including three international ones in the country, 36 are operational.
Despite getting into approximately Rs 48 billion debts, the Nepal Airlines Corporation, the national flag-carrier of the country, is planning to add three more aircraft. Currently, it has two wide-body and two narrow-body aircraft for international flights. Similarly, it has two Twin Otter planes for domestic flights.
In view of the marketing of tourism, the Tourism Board has a plan on the table to expand the market across India, Bangladesh and China. Europe and the United States have recovered in terms of tourism following the infection. Asian countries are on track to achieve tourism revival.
Lately, Chinese tourists have visited Nepal in hordes.
Before the pandemic, around 170,000 Chinese tourists had arrived in Nepal. Lately after the virus subsided, the influx of Chinese tourists has been encouraging, said Tourism Board’s Director Lamichhane.
According to him, the country saw the arrival of around 1,800 Chinese tourists in February, 2023. The number encouragingly surged 30 percent to 2,600 in March, and 81 percent to 4,770 in April. Flights from China to Nepal have also added.
Proper marketing has resulted in a significant surge in the influx of tourists from India and Bangladesh as well, he said.
Now, the arrival of Chinese tourists would increase as the Nepal-China transit points have reopened, and flights are operating, he expressed the hope.
General Secretary of the Nepal Mountaineering Association Mohan Lamsal expressed his hope that enthusiasm for climbing Mt Everest this season, and activities in the run-up to the 70th Anniversary of the first successful ascent of Mt Everest would make the country’s tourism more dynamic.
Hotels and hospitality centers in the country have capacity of accommodating around 3.5 million tourists. There are around 10,000 hotels ranging from five stars to tourist standard hotels in the country.
At present, there are 18 five star hotels including a deluxe one in the country, according to the Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN). Around 20 five star hotels will be added in one and a half years. Over two dozen chain hotels are also ready for operation. HAN President Binayak Shah said the affected tourism sector of the country has gradually come back on track.
However, there is still a setback for hotels. There is only 30 percent hotel occupancy as of now, said hotel entrepreneurs. It requires at least 38 percent occupancy to cover daily operational expenses of a hotel, they said.
“Now we can bring packages to attract tourists. Hotels have been hit hard due to a lack of tourists for the past three years after the outbreak of the pandemic. As a result, hotel entrepreneurs have faced such a situation that they are finding it hard to pay off bank loans and interests. Until the previous fiscal year, the government had tried to address our problems through monetary policy. But, this is not the case in the current FY. So, we have put forward our problems with the government,” he said.
Returns on investment?
According to data, Rs 1,700 to Rs 1,800 billion have been invested in the hotel sector. The influx of tourists in recent years has not been enough to get hotels surviving the dire situation at present.
In such a situation, to save the hotel sector, the government should take steps like fully operating Pokhara and Bhairahawa international airports, said Shah.
“It will be meaningless to only construct airports without their operation. We are unable to operate other aircraft except for the ones of the NAC. We cannot bring in 3.5 million tourists when airports cannot operate fully. There is a doubt that the government cannot do the marketing substantially. For this, the government should cooperate with the private sector,” he suggested.
President of the Thamel Tourism Development Council, Bhabishwar Sharma backed Lamichhane. The country’s tourism is gradually recovering, and this has encouraged tourism entrepreneurs, he said.
“Encouraged by the gradual revival of the tourism sector, tourism entrepreneurs are working with positive vibes. There has been around 80 percent hotel occupancy in the Thamel area. Chinese tourists are increasing,” he said.
He stressed the need for a partnership between the government and the private sector to revitalize the industry.
Similarly, President of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal, Nilhari Bastola stressed the need for policy improvements, destination expansion and marketing so as to make the tourism sector dynamic.
Also, President of the Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents Ramesh Thapa emphasized putting forward planned programmes for accelerating the revival of tourism.