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China resumes outbound group tours excluding Nepal from the list of ‘relevant countries’

China resumes outbound group tours excluding Nepal from the list of ‘relevant countries’
When China announced the reopening of outbound travel for its citizens, travel trade entrepreneurs in Nepal were quite hopeful of welcoming a good number of Chinese guests in 2023. However, their hope has been dashed for the moment as China failed to include Nepal in its list of the countries where its citizens can travel starting from February 6. "From February 6, 2023, travel agencies and online companies across the country, on a pilot basis, are resuming the organization of outbound group tours and the air ticket plus hotel service for Chinese citizens to relevant countries," reads a press statement issued by the Chinese Ministry for Culture and Tourism on January 20.

China has included 20 countries in the first phase where Chinese travelers can travel. The northern neighbor included Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Laos, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Russia, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Fiji, Cuba, and Argentina as an outbound destination for Chinese citizens to travel as the pilot destinations, as per the circular issued by the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The disappearance of Nepal from the list, according to Nepali travel trade entrepreneurs, could affect the government's target of welcoming 1 million tourists in 2023. Before the pandemic-related travel restrictions began in early 2020 in Nepal and across the world, China was the second largest source market for Nepal after India as the country welcomed 169,543 tourists from the northern neighbor. A total of 1.19 million foreign tourists visited Nepal in 2019 before the pandemic disrupted global tourism. “We were expecting that Nepal would be included in China’s list of outbound destinations for Chinese citizens from the beginning which unfortunately could not happen,” said Bishwesh Shrestha, owner of C&K Travels which specializes in Chinese tourists. “We are also planning to launch a publicity campaign in China, but we will do it later once Nepal is also included in the list.” Travel trade entrepreneurs say Nepali authorities should proactively lobby with China to include Nepali in the list. "We should have taken a diplomatic approach as countries like Thailand have been requesting China to include their countries on the list," said a tour operator. Tour operators say they expect Nepal to be included in the next list of 'relevant countries' hopefully as early as possible. According to them, a significant contribution of Chinese tourists would be required if Nepal wants to meet the target of 1 million in 2023. Tour operators specializing in Chinese tourists say they are getting a lot of inquiries from the northern neighbor currently. "In fact, FITs (free independent travelers) have already started coming to Nepal," said Shrestha, adding, "But, group travelers from the northern neighbor have not happened yet." During its 24th anniversary, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) announced to attract at least one million foreign tourists in 2023. In 2022, tourist arrivals reached over 600,000 without any significant contribution from China. Nepal welcomed only 9,595 Chinese tourists in 2022. Tour operators say they are receiving increasing inquiries from major source markets of late. Binayak Shah, First Vice President of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), in early January had said that the initial trends in tourism are encouraging. “The inquiries we’ve been receiving from international visitors of late have given new hope,” said Shah. When it comes to Chinese tourists, besides China opening the door for its citizens to visit Nepal, their arrivals will also depend on how quickly flights between the two countries are normalized, according to tour operators. There is still some uncertainty as to when other Chinese airlines would resume their flights to Nepal. While China Southern and Air China are now operating their flights to Kathmandu, other airlines, namely China Eastern and Sichuan Air are yet to resume their Kathmandu flights. “With the normalization of flights with China, we can welcome at least 100,000 Chinese tourists in 2023,” said Shrestha. According to tour operators, the fact that many countries still have some kind of reservations about letting Chinese tourists enter their countries could bring a large number of Chinese tourists to Nepal. “If there will be normalization of flights from China as that of the pre-Covid period, we could welcome more than 100,000 Chinese tourists in 2023,” said Shrestha. With China reopening outbound travel for Chinese Citizens, Himalaya Airlines has recently resumed its Kathmandu-Beijing direct flight after a hiatus of 32 months. The Kathmandu-Beijing flight was suspended in March 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe. Himalaya's Airbus 319 departed from Tribhuvan International Airport on January 17 to Beijing Daxing International Airport. According to the airliner, the January 17 flight was a reoperation flight and the regular flights will begin in February. The resumption of direct flights between Kathmandu and Beijing is expected to help increase the frequency of Chinese tourist arrivals in Nepal this year.