At a time when the government has been stressing the need to construct Nijgadh International Airport to boost tourism, the government’s failure to lure international flights put Nepal’s recently completed Gautam Buddha International Airport idle.
In a recent interaction with Minister of Tourism Civil Aviation and Culture Jeevan Kumar Shrestha, who has already declared to push Nijgadh Airport as a game-changer mega project, tourism entrepreneurs express worries about the lack of international flights in Gautam Buddha International Airport
According to The Rising Nepal, it has been two months since Bhairahawa’s Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA) came into operation but tourism entrepreneurs of Lumbini Province feel that it has not brought in the expected number of visitors to the region.
Like in the proposed airport's site Nijgadh, tourism entrepreneurs and land brokers have invested big money dreaming to see a thriving economy. However, two months of experience have shown otherwise.
Businessmen who invested millions of rupees to open hotels and lodges are now regretting their decision because they fear they might not recover that investment. “The airport only hosts three international flights a week and almost all the passengers on those flights are Nepalis,” complained Chandra Prakash Shrestha, hotelier and president of the Siddhartha Hotel Association. “This has not benefited the tourism industry at all.”
Saying that many tourists came to Nepal from Delhi, Shrestha asked the government to begin flights between Bhairahawa and New Delhi, India, immediately. Sagar Adhikari, Lumbini provincial president of the Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA), suggested Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) operate one flight a week between Delhi and Bhairahawa and said that such a flight would find enough passengers.
Tourism businessman Sanjay Bajimaya stressed that since the airport was built with the aim of bringing religious tourists, it was necessary for authorities to cooperate with the private sector and design special packages.
The entrepreneurs of the region have also sought help from Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Jeevan Ram Shrestha, who is on his first trip to the province after assuming office, to take initiative to increase the number of flights at GBIA and operate it at full capacity. Similarly, Govinda Gyawali, president of the Lumbini Hotel Association, also called for the completed cargo building to be brought into operation and to manage the garbage piled up around Lumbini.
Minister Shrestha, for his part, has said that the airport’s present terminal is too small to allow it to operate at full capacity and informed that the government's priority is to build another terminal building.
He also shared that many of the entrepreneurs’ concerns had been addressed by his recently released 73-point plan and expressed commitment to incorporate any issues that it may have missed out. Shrestha also said that NAC and Himalaya Airlines were in talks to begin flights from GBIA.
“The Ministry is considering a variety of ways to attract airlines to Bhairahawa including discounts and transit visa management,” he informed, adding, “The purpose of this airport is to bring in more tourists to Lumbini and the government is serious about it.”
Siddhartha Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Bhishma Prasad Neupane said that budget needed to be allocated for the Bhairahawa-Lumbini monorail and an online gateway payment system required to be set up for tasks related to the tourism industry to promote tourism in the province. He also stressed the need to set up an organized and modern immigration office at the Belahiya checkpoint where most tourists coming to the country by land enter.
He also called for authorities to coordinate with airlines from Buddhist-majority countries to bring in people from there.
The lack of passengers and aircraft flow at GIBA raised a serious question about the need for mega international airports like Nijgadh. Due to a lack of flights, Pokhara International Airport, which was handed over to Nepal by China five months ago, is yet to be operated.
Based on a report by The Rising Nepal