POKHARA, Dec 2: The government has set a target of attracting one million foreign tourists in 2023. During the eleven months of this year (January-November 2023), a total of 918,308 foreign guests have entered Nepal. If 82,000 foreign tourists arrive in Nepal within the next month, the government's target will be fulfilled. During the review period, most of the tourists visiting Nepal were from India.
The data from the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) only include foreign tourists who have entered Nepal via air routes. According to the data of the NTB, 287,244 Indian tourists entered Nepal in the 11 months of 2023. According to NTB Director Maniraj Lamichhane, the arrival of Indian tourists has improved significantly after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, Indian tourists entering Nepal make up 15 to 20 percent of the total visitors. However, this year, the number of Indian tourists has increased significantly.
“There has been a significant improvement in the arrival of Indian tourists," says Lamichhane, adding, "Almost one-third of the tourists are Indians. This is a positive aspect for the tourism sector.”
He said that the arrival of Indian tourists has increased because the board and the private sector have done frequent promotional activities in different cities of India. Connectivity with India is also very good. "Indian guests have increased due to ease in travel and proactive involvement of entrepreneurs emphasizing on promotion," he said.
According to Lamichhane, the number of Chinese visitors is about 6 percent among the foreigners entering Nepal during this period. The normal influx of Chinese tourists used to be around 10 to 15 percent earlier. "The number of Chinese guests that should have come did not arrive, but the Indian tourists have come in substantial numbers," he said, "As China slowly opened up its citizens to travel after the Covid-19 pandemic, the arrival of Chinese citizens is yet to pick up pace."
According to Lamichhane, both China and India are traditional markets for tourism in Nepal.
The arrival of Indian tourists is high because they do not require visas and Nepal shares close proximity and open border with India.
“China is a traditional market for Nepal, but the size of the Chinese tourists has not yet reached its full potential,” he said.
"In Nepal, Indian tourists not only arrive via air routes but also enter Nepal via land routes. However, data regarding these tourists is not included anywhere. Indian tourists come in various categories, ranging from religious purposes, who travel on a limited budget to high-end travelers. Indian tourists tend to engage less in trekking and adventurous activities. If we can further attract Indian tourists interested in trekking and adventure, Nepal can benefit even more from India," he stated.
"Even now, Indian tourists dominate in terms of budget and upscale hotels. In mid-range hotels, there are fewer Indian visitors. The nature of Indian tourists is such that they either spend extravagantly or opt for more budget-friendly options, engaging in extensive travel at a lower cost," he stated. "When there is a decline in adventurous activities, the influx of Indian tourists decreases in mid-range hotels."
Similarly, 93,327 Americans entered Nepal during the 11 months of this year. American guests account for 10 percent of the total tourists. According to Lamichhane, the arrival of British tourists this year is not much encouraging compared to the past. Under normal circumstances, British visitors make up 8 percent of the tourists visiting Nepal. However, this year, British tourists account for only five percent of the total visitors, the official of the NTB said.
Tourism entrepreneurs are actively involved in promotional activities in Indian cities. “The number of Indian tourists entering Nepal is quite substantial. The tourism sector has flourished due to Indian tourists,” said Bharat Raj Parajuli, a central member of the Hotel Association of Nepal. “Chinese tourists may have increased over the years, but Indian tourists visit Nepal consistently. Businesses have thrived due to their presence. Arrival of Chinese tourists is not consistent.”
According to Parajuli, the tourism sector in Pokhara flourished in October and November mainly due to Indian tourists. “The significant presence of Indian tourists was quite beneficial. It provided relief to the businesses. Recently, some issues have arisen due to the Indian currency, but businesses are still heavily dependent on Indian customers. The arrival of Indian tourists has remained favorable. The size of Indian tourists has increased as they can travel easily. It's not as easy with China. Besides, even entrepreneurs are making concerted efforts to attract Indian tourists,” Parajuli stated.
According to him, the operation of casinos is thriving primarily due to Indian tourists. “All the casinos that are currently open have been running due to the significant number of Indian visitors,” he mentioned. He said the number of young generation among Indian guests is still low. He said that Nepal will benefit greatly from Indian tourism if it can attract college-going students, new entrepreneurs and young generation and engage them in adventure activities.