The Himalayan Times, 30 Dec 2017
Though the country witnessed exponential growth in tourist inflow in the first half of 2017, hinting towards possibility that Nepal would finally realise its dream to draw one million annual foreign tourists this year, the target has once again eluded the government.
According to statistics prepared by the Immigration Office at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), 857,352 foreigners visited Nepal as of December 26 via air route.
Though foreign tourists come to Nepal via few customs check points like Bhairahawa, Sunauli and Biratnagar, majority of them are Indian tourists while only a negligible number of other international tourists uses such routes to visit Nepal.
Though tourist inflow data maintained by the immigration office shows that 734,686 tourists had come to Nepal till October, with the country receiving monthly average of 73,468 foreign visitors, Nepal fell short of meeting the target of drawing one million tourists by almost 165,000 as the numbers were lower in November and December.
Against the government’s target to draw at least 150,000 foreign visitors in November and 100,000 in December, only 122,666 tourists visited Nepal in these two months. As a result of lean inflow of tourists in November and December (months regarded to be major season for tourist inflow), Nepal could not meet the annual tourist inflow target that was set six years ago.
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Tourism entrepreneurs have cited the uncertainty and possibility of chaos during the elections in Nepal towards end of the year for lean inflow of tourists in November and
“Unfortunately, the time of the elections coincided with the major tourist season. As tourists try to avoid trips if a country is holding elections or if the country is facing any other form of uncertainty, less number of foreign visitors came to Nepal in the late months of 2017,” explained Binayak Shah, the spokesperson for Hotel Association
However, tourism entrepreneurs are optimistic that inflow of tourists will increase substantially in the coming months with the formation of a new government, which is expected to usher in an era of stability in the country.
Meanwhile, government officials have cited the country’s poor air connectivity to different international destinations and inability to operate the Tatopani border in full fledged manner as other setbacks that resulted in lean inflow of foreign tourists.
“While Nepal Airlines has not been able to expand its services properly, the government has not been able to fully operate the Tatopani border. Had this border point been operated properly, at least 100,000 additional foreign tourists, especially from China, would have visited Nepal,” said Rajendra Sapkota, one of the board members at Nepal Tourism Board (NTB).
Similarly, travel and tour operators in the country are hopeful that the country will start receiving one million tourists in the coming years. However, they also said that it would still be a far cry from the country’s target to bring in two million tourists every year by 2020.
“Along with stability in the country, the government should put efforts to address infrastructure bottlenecks to attract more foreign tourists. Similarly, the airfare to Nepal, which is comparatively high, should be reduced at the earliest,” opined an official of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA).