As the speed of construction of GBIA increases, the face of tourism entrepreneurs of Lumbini area has brightened up. The project will open enormous economic opportunities to the tourism and other sectors of the region.
For those who saw the debacle of the project two years ago, with the project virtually at a stage of collapse, it is unbelievable to see it gradually completing work on infrastructure, like towers, runway, taxi way, office and cargo building.
During a recent high-level visit to the project site, one could see the satisfaction on the face of Asian Development Bank's country director Mukhtor Khamudkhanov, who has been playing an important role to complete the project in time.
"Given the current pace of construction and hard work of project officials and contractors, there is ample reason to believe that the project will complete in its schedule," said country director Mukhtor Khamudkhanov.
With so much happening, one can see a very satisfactory statement coming from higher officials of the Civil Aviation Authority.
"If the current level of progress is maintained, we are expecting to complete the project by December and start technical testing of the airport and certification process," said Rajan Pokharel, Oficiating Director General of Civil Aviation Authority Nepal (CAN). "What I can say now is that the project has survived thanks to close cooperation between ADB Nepal Country Office, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation and CAN."
As five 5-star hotels are already in operation and seven others are at the last stage of construction, GIBA is going to be a game changer in the province 5 in terms of tourism promotion and other economic activities.
Declared as a national priority project, the airport, though delayed by a couple of years, will improve Nepal's international image as well.
Although all the concerned officials have contributed enormously, young and dynamic project manager Prabesh Adhikari and Naresh Pradhan, Project Officer (Transport), Nepal Resident Mission, Asian Development Bank, are the key players to deal with issues on the ground and push the project.
One can see visible impacts in the project with the presence of young engineer of CAN Prabesh Adhikari. "I had to fight tooth and nail from time to time with municipal and other officials to maintain the supply of stones quarried," said Adhikary, who saved the project last month, opening the restriction placed by Tillotama Municipality, which had stopped the supply of stones. "Due to the difficulty, contractors are now carrying stones from Bara and Parsa," said Adhikari, with a great sense of satisfaction.
Situated 20 kilometers from Lumbini, birthplace of Siddarth Gautam, the airport will be expected to bring more tourists in the region, paving the way to boost Buddhist tourism in Nepal.
"As everything is as per schedule and all the works, including the purchase of navigation equipment is going on the right way, what I can say is that the dream to see international flights from GBIA is not far away," said Shrestha.
Boom In Tourism
As the tower of airport is in nearly complete, star hotels are also in a rush to complete their work to get up and running. While marketing for spiritual tourism is yet to be launched globally, tourism entrepreneurs have jumped with over 20 billion investment in the hotel sector.
"This airport is going to be a lifeline for us. As we have invested such a huge money in the hotel sector, our survival will depend upon the smooth operation of the airport attracting the Buddhist pilgrims and visitors," said Chandra Kishor Shreshta of Hotel Association of Nepal, Lumbini. "The project has been revived from a near stage of collapse," said Shrestha.
Not everything is smooth, though. Lumbini is the birthplace of Gautam Buddha and important religious place, but it is just a part of a Buddhist circuit. Out of four important spiritual places, three places are in India.
With near completion of runway and taxi way, GBIA, second international airport of Nepal, will be ready for operation in 2020. The question is what strategy Nepal government will adopt to make Lumbini a spiritual and tourism spot depends on the viability of tourism industry.
"I have already constructed five star hotel with investment of over 2 billion rupees. For operation of the hotels, we need to bring more tourists in Nepal through GBIA," said Pawan Halwe, a hotel entrepreneur. "The government must support the promotional activities all over the world."
Other travel agents and hotel industrialists are looking for more economic benefits. "As private sectors are rushing to invest in the tourism industry, the timely completion of the project is a key to all us," said tourism entrepreneur Sanjaya Bajimaya. "Realising the importance of airport for the economic development of the region, all the entrepreneurs, including FNCCI, are also working closely supporting the project activities.
With the investment from Asian Development Bank, many livelihood projects are currently under way in Lumbini area. "With an aim to share the benefits of tourism to improve the life of people living in the area, we have been conducting various programs like skill development training. Supported by Asian Development Bank, such training helped to improve the livelihood of people. With the handover of over dozen electric rickshaws, local people are taking the benefit," said Chief Executive Officer of Lumbini Development Trust Saroj Kumar Bhattarai.
For people from big hoteliers to small entrepreneurs, the project currently under going through South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project (SATIDP) has also been helping the local poor to make their livelihood better. Suma Patipal, a woman entrepreneur, has been earning Rs 40,000 (400 dollar) a year additionally after taking a skill training through the project. "We are expecting to generate more money after more tourists begin to arrive in Lumbini," said Patipal, who has already supplied small consignments to foreign countries as well. "The good part of the training is that it helped me to understand market mechanism and enhance skills of making bamboo buckets and other products.”
Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA) will have take-off and landing facilities for large aircrafts such as Airbus A340 and Boeing 777. This will help reduce the existing air traffic congestion at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), Nepal’s only international airport.
At a time when Nepalese agriculture products have been facing stiff competition in the global market because of the transport cost, GBIA will help to reduce the current rate of the cost of air transport.
"Nepal Trade Integration Strategy (NTIS) 2016 has identified a list of goods and services in which Nepal has a revealed comparative advantage. These include lentils, cardamom, ginger, medicinal and aromatic plants, among others," said Manbar Singh Khadka, Economic Officer, NRM, ADB.
"Presently, these items are largely exported to India via road. But, export diversification of such high-value low volume products via airways will be feasible once the Gautam Buddha International Airport comes into operation. Off-season vegetables and horticulture products can be airlifted to Gulf countries via GBIA. This airport can be an avenue to uplift Nepal’s trade with the rest of the world. "
Nepal has signed bilateral air service agreements with a number of countries including Cambodia, Japan, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka where Buddhism is practiced. Presently, Buddhist pilgrims from these countries visit Lumbini via TIA or India.
If this new international airport comes into operation, then tourists from those countries can directly fly in and out from Bhairahawa, Lumbini. In sum, the airport will help propel Nepal’s tourism sector by bringing in more tourists. With the operation of new international airport, migrant workers to Malaysia and Gulf countries from the Terai belt of Nepal can fly out directly from Bhairahawa for overseas employment.
Launchdd by Asian Development Bank, the objective of South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project (SATIDP) is to develop and improve tourism-related infrastructures in Nepal, India and Bangladesh. In Nepal, the project aims to develop the Nepal portions of the footsteps of the Lord Buddha circuit by focusing on Lumbini.
According to ADB, the international works are directed at enhancing the connectivity to Lumbini, destination improveents of Lumbini and capacity development of relevant public sector site managers and communities.
The GBIA is a part of the connectivity enhancement project aiming to enhance air access to Lumbini. Under the upgrade of Gautam Buddha Airport to international standards, the components include construction of a new runway, exit taxiway, and apron pavement, rehabilitation of the existing runway for conversion to parallel taxiway, refurbishment and expansion of existing terminal building as a domestic terminal building. Similarly, the project also includes the construction of new international terminal building, new control tower, custom and cargo building and crash fire rescue building.
Agglomeration effects will take off in terms of more hotels, beds and breakfasts and agro-processing industries being set up along the economic corridors. The exploration and development of other touristic destinations in the Terai belt of Nepal will gain momentum. These developments will help increase local employment and boost regional and national economy at large.
"The upgrading of the airport will help in further developing nearby Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, into an attractive cultural and tourism destination. The international airport is expected to give a big boost to tourism in Lumbini by linking it to international tourist circuits in South Asia. It will not only increase the number of visitors to Lumbini from the traditional markets of India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, but also potentially from the People’s Republic of China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea," said Mukhtor Khamudkhanov, ADB’s Country Director for Nepal.
"It will also serve as an alternate international airport for Nepal in the event of poor weather conditions or in case of natural calamity affecting Tribhuvan International Airport. GBIA will have 3,000 meters long runway, equivalent to TIA, which will be able to cater similar aircrafts that are operating there."
Supported by the ADB under the South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project, GBIA will provide alternative airport to Tribhuwan Internaitonal Airport, which has been facing congestions due to increasing numbers of flight.
"Through this project, ADB is helping Nepal, India, and Bangladesh improve infrastructure and services in key tourism sites. In Nepal, the Project aims to enhance the connectivity to Lumbini, destination improvements in Lumbini, and capacity development of relevant public sector site managers and communities," Mukhtor Khamudkhanov, ADB’s Country Director for Nepal, said.
ADB has provided $55 million ($42.75 million loan and $12.75 million grant) to the Government of Nepal to upgrade the Gautam Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa to an international airport with higher air safety standards. The government has declared it a national pride project.
"We are very happy with the recent project progress. As you are aware, there were delays in the past, but as you will see the construction has taken up the pace in the last year with the current cumulative progress of 70%. The pavement work of the main runway has been completed, and the construction of international terminal building and other land side structure work is progressing well," said ADB country director.
Faced with several difficulties in the last five years, the construction of the project suffered from time to time due to issues like quarrying and conflicts of contractors. Even last month, the construction came nearly to a halt following the decision of Tillotama Municiaplity to double the prices of stone and sand collected from Tinau River.
Apart from physical construction, ADB is also considering making it Nepal's first green airport powered by solar energy. "We are installing solar panels in the vacated land to generate at least 10 MW of solar power to sustain the operation at airport," said Shrestha. "We are planning to visit an airport in Kerala which is completely solar powered."
As machines build the infrastructure, including taxiway and runway and workers are finishing the tower and other office buildings, people in the region are watching the project with high hopes. For government of Nepal, completion the project will be a major achievement.