The much happening year of tourism, year 2011, is nearing its end. Despite much progress in tourism, the 1 million tourist goal, set by the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), however, will not be surpassed this year.
It is said that setting unreachable and unachievable goals results in failure. However, for those who dream for the stars, even if they fail they will end up in the sky. “We are able to achieve what we perceived. Our experiences have shown that Nepal can bring a million tourists without any difficulty,” said Yogendra Shakya, president of Club Himalaya and National Co-coordinator, Nepal Tourism Year 2011.
Others too agree that Nepal Tourism Year 2011 has rejuvenated international market and popularized Nepal as a safe destination. Looking at the current scenario, Nepal is set to miss out the tourism goal by a whisker. But, So far in 2011, tourist arrival numbers are promising and encouraging, to say the least. The country has already welcomed more than eight lakhs foreign visitors, said tourism entrepreneurs.
Despite having limited aircrafts flying into the nation, tourist arrivals by air also shattered all past records. Some 501,264 tourists visited Nepal in the first 11 months of Nepal Tourism Year (NTY) through airways alone.
Hotels in and around the Kathmandu valley have all been packed in this tourist season. Now, with improved arrivals, the existing infrastructure is proving inadequate, say hoteliers. Positivity is running high among tourism entrepreneurs. Hoteliers have also registered record breaking revenues and have expanded their business to the limits.
According to Nepal Tourism Board, in the first 11 months of this year, international visitor arrivals to Nepal averaged a growth rate of 21.5 percent. With the growth in tourist arrivals, international airlines have also launched new services in Nepal and have nearly doubled the number of airlines flying into the country than during the conflict era.
Not only oversea market, the arrival of tourists from Nepal’s two neighbors has increased drastically. Nepal tourism year has been encouraging as there has been strong tourist arrivals from China and India. Though Indian tourists usually dominate the numbers, there has been a strong increment in the number of Chinese tourists as well.
According to the figures released by the Immigration Office, Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), arrivals from India reached 132,652, up 40.5 percent while Chinese tourists amounted to 40,244, up 74.4 percent.
There have also been growths in arrivals from Sri Lanka and Pakistan with a growth rate of 16.6 percent and 16.8 percent respectively. But, Bangladesh registered a negative growth of 8.6 percent in the first 11 months of 2011. Similarly, other Asian countries—Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand—have also registered growths with growth average of nearly 15 percent in the first 11 months compared to last year. Likewise, European and American tourist arrivals are also on a rising trend.
Yet to reach the limits
Increase in tourist arrivals this year cannot be credited to the effects of NTY alone. There were no significant promotional activities about the NTY in the international arena before the start of the tourism year and even in the early half of this year. Due to delay in the release of the promotional budget, the international publicity campaign also got delayed.
“Although international promotion initiative started late due to certain circumstances, we were able to get the budget for the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 (NTY 2011) and started international promotion. This will increase the number of tourists next year,” said secretary at the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation Dr. Ganesh Raj Joshi.
Others hold similar views. “The delay in the release of budget also hit the target of the NTY 2011 to bring in one million tourists,” said Yogendra Shakya, National coordinator of the NTY 2011.
The growth in tourism might also be due the prolonged peace in the country despite political instability. And if there will be peace and political stability, hopefully 2012 will be another landmark year in tourism. Not only because the government recently announced that Nepal will be celebrating visit Lumbini year 2012, but also history suggests the same.
Back in 1998, when Nepal celebrated Visit Nepal 1998, around 463,684 tourists visited the nation. But, in the year after -- 1999, tourist arrivals surprisingly overshadowed 1998 and increased to 491,504.
The same can be expected this time around as well, the promotional activities for the NTY 2011, took off only in the later half of the year, advertisements about the NTY have also been just recently aired on foreign television channels like BBC and CNN. So, we can expect promotional activities to make some impact and help in raise the number of tourists in the upcoming year. Plus, the U.S. Department of State has cancelled the Travel Warning for Nepal, which was issued on January 12, 2011, said an NTB official.
Lumbini Year 2012
Along with that, to carry forward the momentum gained in this year, Tourism minister Lokendra Bista Magar recently announced that Nepal will be celebrating various tourism campaigns each year focusing on major tourist destinations till 2020.
Now, the government should analyze the weaknesses of NTY 2011, learn from the mistakes and take better steps to help tourism foster. When the economy is discouraging, there is no other alternative than focusing on growth through tourism.
“Though the number of tourists visiting the country has been increasing, we, the private sector representatives in the NTY 2011 program implementation committee, have not been fully satisfied with the scenario,” he said.
He expressed his serious concern over the violation of general understanding between the previous government and NTY implementing committee. According to him, there had been a five-point agreement including buying two aircrafts for the Nepal Airlines Corporation.
“Along with others, Nepal Tourism Year 2011 (NTY-2011) helped to promote Nepal in the international market. The NTY 2011 provided opportunity for publicizing Nepal in the international market,” said Joshi. “There is the need of proper infrastructure to boost tourism sector all over Nepal.”
Due to the delay in approving the budget from the NTY 2011 implementation committee, advertisement plans in international media, including BBC and CNN about NTY 2011, has yet to materialize.
Despite so many shortcomings including lack of aircraft with the national carrier, delays in budget allocation and the release of budget for promotion of tourism year at the international level, the progress made by Nepal is tremendous.