Nepal witnessed the growth of 13 percent in total tourist arrivals during the first half of 2016. Nepal received a total of 313,512 tourists in the first half this year, against 277,992 in the same period a year ago. Despite of suffering a devastating earthquake last year killing nearly 9000 people and making a half million homeless, the growth is welcoming.
It has not only given the message to the rest of the world that the Himalayan nation is still intact and safe to travel, but also has hinted on the gradual recovery of tourism business, that completely slowed down after the disaster leading tourism entrepreneurs into frustration. Tourism is not only a component for this small South Asian nation, but the pillar of national economy that highly contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
In 2001, China had designated Nepal as the first destination in South Asia for its citizens. Among nearly 800,000 foreign tourists visiting Nepal every year, around 15 percent of total tourists used to be Chinese in the recent years.
But it is unfortunate that post-quake Nepal failed to attract as much as Chinese tourists as previous years. Neighboring India and China are two largest source markets of tourism for Nepal with China in a move to become the top source market. Linked by spectacular mountains and rivers, the northern neighbor has been sending huge number of tourists every year.
But Chinese tourist arrivals in Nepal plunged by 28 percent during the first half of 2016 according to Department of Immigration (DoI). The DoI statistics shows that Nepal received a total of 33,224 Chinese visitors as of June 2016 against 39,401 during the same period in 2015.
The decision of Nepal government to waive the visa fee for Chinese tourists after the quake was expected to make China the largest source market for the country’s tourism but it could not be possible. Instead of attracting more number of Chinese tourists to help bounce back the country’s tourism, why Nepal is failing to do so?
Though China was the first country to step in Nepal to extend assistance in search, rescue and relief operation right after the disaster, it lacked enough confidence to send its citizens to devastated Nepal for pleasure. For that period, the move was understandable but why they are not coming in a large number even after a year?
Tourism entrepreneurs share that Chinese tourist arrivals slumped because of the lack of adequate connectivity through both air and land. Following the deadly disaster of last year, connectivity between the two borders sharing countries has been weakened instead of being strengthened.
Sichuan Airlines, Air China, China Southern and China Eastern airlines are the four Chinese airlines operating in Nepal that connect Nepal with mainland China.
Following the earthquake, almost all the Chinese airlines operating in Nepal cancelled their regular flights. Then, it was followed by five-month long border blockade with the southern neighbor India resulting to fuel shortage.
During the blockade, the Chinese airlines cut off their flight frequency in lack of aviation fuel. And, they are yet to resume the full services. As a result, the air connectivity between the two countries is not enough as required. Moreover, many have complained that the air fare is comparatively expensive when it comes to Nepal.
Similarly, the land connectivity has also weakened by the disaster. The major border point Tatopani-Khasa between Nepal and China has remained closed since the earthquake last year owing to heavy damages in infrastructures and roads. Before the earthquake, many Chinese tourists used to enter Nepal via this border point, but the closure of border has left a huge impact on tourists’ arrival. Though another border point Rasuwa-Kerung is in operation after the quake, it has been limited to receive only around hundred tourists per day.
According to the travels and tours operating in Nepal, Chinese tourists are mostly fond of elephant rides, boating, rafting and sight-seeing among others in Nepal. They share that in average, a Chinese tourist spends $ 2000 in Nepal for their week-long trip beside airfare. It means that Nepal is facing huge loss with the decreasing number of Chinese tourists.
Another reason for the decrement of Chinese tourists is lack of promotional activities in China. Though Nepal Tourism Board is organizing few such activities in the northern neighbor, those are not enough for the country with such a big population that is looking forward to become the world’s largest economy.
Nepal must attract the northern neighbors to explore its destinations to help it regain momentum in the tourism business. Nepal is lucky from various aspects either its ancient structures or cultural richness. Though the massive quake had damaged most of the UNESCO world heritage sites, they are undergoing some restoration works and still hold major attractions. The report released after the deadly disaster in the country concluded that all the airports including the sole international airport Tribhuwan International Airport are safe, 90 percents of hotels are in operation, 7 out of 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are opened for tourists and 32 out of 35 trekking routes are not affected by the quake.
Though Nepal received only 538,970 foreign visitors, six-year low in 2015, Nepal government has targeted a five-fold rise in foreign tourist arrivals to 2.52 million in the country by 2025. For this, a new National Tourism Strategy 2016-2025 has been endorsed by the government which targets to increase tourism income by nearly seven times to 3.15 billion U.S. dollar from 462 million U.S. dollar.
The strategy has also targeted to increase tourism income by nearly seven times. In order to increase the overall income from the sector, a tourist’s per day spending has been targeted to be increased to 90 U.S. dollar from 69 U.S. dollar.
The strategy has called for improving investment climate in the country, encouraging foreign investment, improving air transport capacity and infrastructure and public private partnership among others, that is praise worthy.
For this, there is a need of identifying new tourist destinations, new product development, awareness program, infrastructure development and human resources development. China is the most important factor to meet this target; hence the government and private sector must work actively to attract more Chinese tourists.