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Keep them coming

Keep them coming

In what was a turning point for Nepali tourism, for the very first time, Nepal in 2018 welcomed over a million tourists by air (1.1 million to be exact). The government had long been trying to cross the magical million-mark. Perhaps Nepal could have got­ten there earlier if not for the devastating 2015 earth­quakes and the border blockade later in the year. Bet­ter late than never. Tourist arrivals ticked up again as the country entered a phase of political stability and post-quake rebuilding of destroyed heritage sites and tourist attractions.


This year has brought more good news. In the first two months of 2019, tourist arrivals via air were up 33 percent from the same period last year. Interesting­ly, in February, China (16,205) and Sri Lanka (14,831) sent more tourists to Nepal than did India (14,547). But this may be explained by the fact that more and more Indians are travelling to Nepal by road. In the broader picture, in 2019, the country is set to easily surpass last year’s tally of 1.1 million, and seems well on its way to meeting the new target of over two million tourists in 2020.


Stable politics helps. But the Nepal Tourism Board must also be congratulated for being able to better market Nepal abroad, especially in China. The NTB and the Nepali private sector are also making a new push into European markets. Popular tourist guides like Lonely Planet advising their readers to make ‘exotic Nepal’ one of their new travel destinations was an add­ed boost. Crucially, more foreign tourists are coming at a time when earnings from remittance have stagnat­ed and the broader economy appears wobbly. Steady growth of tourism could at least partially compensate for a slowdown in other sectors.


Nepal earned over $600 million from tourism in 2018. Economists say this figure could easily double if we can improve our air and road transport infra­structures (perhaps starting with timely completion of regional international airports in Pokhara and Bhair­ahawa). Sorting out the perennial labor disputes in hotels and restaurants with more practical and flexible labor laws should be another priority. This is no time to relax. Nepal still ranks far down international tour­ism competitiveness indices, for instance, and it faces greater competition for tourists even within South Asia. There is still much room for improvement.