KATHMANDU, March 22: Newly-appointed Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Rabindra Adhikari, has set two key targets for his tenure - welcoming 1.5 million tourists by 2020 and starting construction of second international airport in Nijgadh of Bara.
The target of welcoming 2 million visitors by 2020 has already been enshrined in the Tourism Vision 2020 document and endorsed by past governments.
Earlier in 2011, the government celebrated yearlong tourism promotional campaign named Nepal Tourism Year setting a target of welcoming one million visitors. Six years on, the target is still eluding the tourism sector.
Nepal welcomed only 735,932 foreign tourists in 2011. Total number of foreign tourists visiting Nepal in 2017 was 940,218. The arrival figures, however, is a big achievement considering the 2015 earthquakes which hit the core of the tourism industry.
Tourism stakeholders say that the target of welcoming 1.5 million visitors by 2020 is gettable. “Political stability has been restored with the recently held elections. The private sector is ready to work with the government to meet the target,” CN Pandey, president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA), said. “We already have needful infrastructure to welcome 1.5 million visitors. Moreover, our national flag carrier is adding more aircraft. Private carriers are also extending their fleet. All these developments bode well for the industry.”
Pandey also said that the government should bring the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) into operation round the clock and bring an alternative international airport into operation within a year or two.
Stakeholders say Nepal should promote aggressively in its neighboring markets - India and China - where outbound tourism is growing by leaps and bounds.
Amar Man Shakya, president of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), also said that bringing 1.5 million tourists by 2020 is a reasonable target. He, however, said infrastructure development is a key to achieve the target. “Increasing number of hotel rooms shows that there won't be any accommodation problem for tourists. We have the capacity to serve large number of tourists,” he said, adding that the industry needs more infrastructure, more aircraft for the national flag carrier, innovative products and new destinations, aggressive promotional campaigns, and a strong commitment from the government.
Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), said that the target set by the new tourism minister is gettable. “Previous target of bringing two million tourists by 2020 comes under the 2020 vision that was set looking toward the construction of alternative international airports and other infrastructure developments," Joshi told Republica. He further said that the previous cabinet also set a target of welcoming 1.5 million foreign tourists by 2020, taking note of under-construction infrastructure for the tourism industry.
“We are gradually becoming capable to achieve the target by 2020. So, the target is justifiable,” Joshi added.