KATHMANDU, Nov 5: The Nepal Tourism Year 2011 campaign had set a target of welcoming one million foreign tourists into the country and giving a major boost to inbound tourism. But the outcomes seem to be in the opposite direction, as outbound tourism has witnessed healthy growth in the past five years while tourist arrivals have witnessed negative growth in the past three years.
Attractive outbound tour packages offered by travel agencies lured hundreds of Nepalis the Dashain and Tihar holidays to foreign destinations. These agencies, however, operated very few groups of Nepali tourists to domestic destinations.
About half a dozen travel agencies that Republica talked to said that their foreign tour packages received more response from Nepalis compared to domestic trips. Despite this, destinations like Mustang, Manang, Pokhara and Rara received large number of domestic tourists this festive season. Travel agency operators said the number however is low compared to the number of tourists holidaying abroad.
If one is asked to choose between, say, Rara Lake and Bangkok, s/he would definitely choose Bangkok even though the cost of traveling to Bangkok is double the travel cost to Rara, tour operators say. “Nepalis are interested toward entertainment and infrastructure grandeur which is not available here, compared to flora and fauna, natural beauty and cultural attractions that domestic destinations offer,” Nojal Koirala, assistant manager of Tour Department, Incentives Holidays, said.
Incentive Holidays sent over 200 Nepalis to Thailand, Malaysia, Dubai and Singapore during Dashain holidays.
Koirala, however, said that they only sent about a dozen Nepali travelers to domestic destinations.
A four-night, five-day Bangkok tour package costs only around Rs 45,000. The package includes two-way airfare, visa fee, city tours, accommodation and breakfast. Similarly, three-night, four-day package to Malaysia is available at around Rs 50,000. One can buy four-night, five-day to Dubai package at around Rs 68,000. Combined packages of Malaysia and Singapore, and Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are popular among Nepalis, according to tour operators.
Compared to this, a weeklong tour package to Rara Lake costs only Rs 21,000. Still, more people choose to travel abroad than visiting the Rara Lake. One can reach Rara Lake in just two and half days via Surkhet and Jumla. Som Bahadur Tamang, managing director of Art Summit Travels & Tours, which is promoting the Rara Lake package, said only around 50 Nepalis have bought the package in the past 10 months.
Nevertheless, he is happy to note that the movement of Nepalis to domestic destinations is increasing. “People in Kathmandu Valley have now discovered the joys of travelling. Youths working in NGOs, banks, educational institutions and corporate houses are travelling in groups,” Tamang added.
A five-day Mustang tour is available costs between Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 depending on agencies. But agencies say they are not getting good response.
“Many people prefer foreign destinations because they feel outbound packages are cheaper compared to domestic trips which is untrue,” added Tamang.
Subha Adhikari, a manager with a veterinary medicine distributor, visited Thailand with his friends two weeks ago. “We chose Thailand as it is a cheap destination to enjoy beaches and an ideal destination for first foreign trip,” said Adhikari. According to Adhikari, the trip was financed by his employer for meeting the sales target.
It is not only affordable tour packages that is attracting Nepalis to foreign destinations. Unsafe road, syndication in transport sector which prevents people from taking their own vehicles to destinations, lack of proper hotels and infrastructures are some of the reasons that is discouraging Nepalis from traveling to domestic destinations, according to Raju Dhakal, managing director of Sea Links Travels and Tours Pvt Ltd.
Though the trip to Rara and Mustang is appealing, it is very difficult to get air tickets to these destinations. Similarly, it is almost difficult to get air tickets to Pokhara during Dashain holidays. On the other hand, one can easily get visa and air tickets to Bangkok, Malaysia and other foreign destinations.
Outbound tourism is growing at a time when the government is celebrating the Nepali year 2073 as 'Ghumphir Barsha' - a yearlong campaign to boost domestic tourism. Sudhan Subedi, senior officer of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), said though there is no data of Nepalis traveling abroad the growth rate of foreign arrivals is slower compared to outbound tourists. “Rise in the number of outbound tourists as well as the movement of Nepalese in domestic destinations shows that Nepalis have some disposable income to spend on travelling, which is good for the tourism industry, he added.
Nepal welcomed only 538,970 foreign tourists in 2015. Average growth rate of foreign tourists over the past five years remained at only 5 percent. Foreign tourist arrivals witnessed negative growth in the last three years, according to Nepal Tourism Statistics 2015.