International tourists arrivals pick momentum in Nepal

Kathmandu, NepalWritten By: Saloni MurarkaUpdated: Jun 07, 2022, 09:19 PM IST
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Passengers deplane from a Jazeera Airways aircraft upon arrival at the newly built Gautam Buddha International Airport following its inauguration in Siddharthanagar Photograph:(AFP)

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According to the Nepal Rastra Bank, the tourism sector provides employment for about 20 per cent of Nepal's workforce and contributes to 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP)

Nepal has seen more tourists arrive since January than in all of 2021. In 2021, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) recorded over 150,000 foreign visitors. For instance, in May 2022 alone, the NTB counted nearly 53,608 tourists. However, the arrivals remain far lower than pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, Nepal welcomed a total of 1.3 million foreign tourists arriving by plane. This doesn't include those arriving by land from India. It is estimated that 1 tourist visit creates 10 employment opportunities in Nepal.

According to the Nepal Rastra Bank, the tourism sector provides employment for about 20 per cent of Nepal's workforce and contributes to 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).  

A decline in tourist arrivals particularly from China turned out to be the major factor behind the overall slump, as China had remained the second largest source market after India for Nepal's tourism industry for more than a decade till 2020, showed the data. 

Since January, only 1,626 Chinese nationals have visited Nepal in comparison to 2019, 1,69,543 tourists arrived. 

Before the pandemic, China was one of the major sources of tourism in Nepal, but strict pandemic measures keep tourism from China cut off. Pre-pandemic, there had been four direct flights from China.

On June 2, 2022, Nepal began its first direct flight from China-Nepal after over two years. 

The Director of the Board said the number of tourists would have been shooting had China resumed flight services. 

"Nepal's tourism sector of course suffered our economy depends a lot on tourism. I am very happy to say that once the third wave was over and things started to get better, our numbers started growing very well. As in the past, India leads the pact. So, we are getting lots of Indian tourists, they are coming in huge numbers. One thing that is very interesting about the Indian market is that earlier they used to come for only religion and shopping but now we have a huge segment of Indians coming for adventure activities, Nandini Lahe Thapa, Director of the Nepal Tourism Board told WION.

Speaking on the challenges the country is facing while the tourism sector recovering, "The industry had a very hard time to keep with all the losses. There have been some brain drain and skill drain in the intervening years because a lot of our skilled staff moved to other countries like Maldives, Middle East. Now it's a question of who is there and training for new capacity building for new people," she added.

Nepal's tourism and hospitality industry continue to face shortages as the majority of employees left the sector during the pandemic.

Many tour guides and service staff either changed their profession or left the country in search of work.

The NTB said that the tourism sector is set to recover gradually as more workers return. However, people remained worried about a possible return of pandemic restrictions or the spread of monkeypox. 

"I have been working in the tourism sector for 36 years. This is the only source of my livelihood and income for my family. During COVID, the situation was so stressful that I cannot express it. The workers involved in the tourism sector lost their jobs and some are still jobless. Due to a lack of tourists and work, many were forced to leave Kathmandu and return to their hometown," Kundan Chhetri, trek and rafting tour guide told WION. 

Binod Gautam, an artist in Kathmandu has been involved in stone crafting for 15 years. The influx of tourists directly impacts his business. He says locals do not purchase his craft and the only plausible way to make money is through tourists. To complete a piece of stone it takes one week to sometimes 3 months. 

"For 15 years I have been part of this business. Before COVID, the business was going fine but the pandemic has changed everything. It became extremely difficult and I lost my income for almost two years. During which, I had to return to my village to my family. After COVID, the sales of my craft are slowly picking up," Gautam told WION. 

According to the Director of Research, Planning, and Monitoring of NTB Mani R Lamichhane, in 2019, Nepal welcomed 1,197,191 tourists. The proportion of tourists from these countries are India (21.2 per cent), China (14.2 per cent), the US (7.8 per cent), the UK (5.1 per cent), and Sri Lanka (4.7 per cent). 

In 2021, 230,085 tourists arrived to the Himalayan nation while in 2021, only 150,962 visited Nepal, a drop of 34.4 percent from 2020. 

However, with COVID restrictions gradually being eased down, Nepal since January, has already welcomed 190,703. 

Even after COVID, India tops the list in the number of tourists arrival in Nepal. 

The top five tourists arrival of 2022 are from India, the US, the UK, Australia and Bangladesh. 

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