Arpana Ale Magar, My Republica, January 09, 2019
KATHMANDU: Tourist arrivals hit a record 1.17 million in 2018 -- a growth of 24.77 percent compared to 2017.
According to data compiled by Department of Immigration (DoI) and released by Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), biggest growth came from Sri Lanka. A total of 70,610 Sri Lankan tourists visited Nepal in 2018 which is a growth of 55.7 percent compared to arrival figures of 2017.
Sri Lanka contributed 6.02 percent of total foreign tourist arrivals in Nepal in 2018, shows the data released by NTB.
Tourist arrivals from Sri Lanka -- a Buddhist country -- are growing steadily in recent years. Most of them come to visit Lumbini -- the birthplace of Buddha. This healthy growth in arrivals from the South Asian neighbor has come despite lack of direct connectivity between Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Tourism entrepreneurs are upbeat with the tourist arrivals figures. "If we can establish direct connectivity between Bhairahawa and Sri Lanka, the number of Sri Lankan visitors will increase further," said CN Pandey, president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA).
Most of the Sri Lankan tourists visiting Nepal came from land route and the sole purpose of their Nepal visit is pilgrimage, Pandey said, adding: "Buddhist International Travel Mart (BITM), which we are organizing in Lumbini from January 10, will give the much needed impetus to Buddhist tourism sector."
Overall arrivals from the SAARC countries recorded a sturdy growth of 26.4 percent in 2018. According to NTB, tourist arrivals from SAARC countries were 301,963 during the year.
A recent report titled 'A Glass Half Full' prepared by the World Bank Group mentions that landlocked countries like Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Nepal, as well as Northeast India and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, could gain much more from better transit and connectivity. Regional tourism could grow much more quickly, as could trade in other services such as education, health care, and financial services, the report adds.
Of the total arrivals in 2018, 969,287 entered the country via aerial route, while remaining 203,785 came from land route. Like in the past years, India became the largest tourist market for Nepal, contributing 200,438 visitors. It was a growth of 25.1 percent compared to arrival figures of 2017. Likewise, arrivals from China grew by 46.8 percent to 153,602 visitors in 2018. The US was third in the list with 91,785 visitors in 2018 -- a growth of 16 percent compared to arrival figures of last year.
European arrivals also posted healthy growth led by the United Kingdom which contributed 63,086 visitors in 2018. Similarly, Germany (36,833) and France (31,653) were the other largest tourism markets for Nepal in the review year.
Commenting on growth in tourist arrivals, Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO of NTB, said that the growths over the past three years have instilled high confidence on tourism stakeholders. “This growth in the international visitor arrivals could be possible only because of the synergy in our efforts and the spirit of partnership that we cherish since the very beginning,” he said. He further said that working closely with the private sector and media is the success mantra to take tourism to a new height.
HOTEL OCCUPANCY AT 85 PERCENT IN 2018
Growth in tourist arrivals has also been reflected in hotel occupancy.
Amar Man Shakya, president of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), said average room occupancy at member hotels of HAN was 85 percent in 2018, compared to 65 percent a year earlier. "Indeed it was a joyous moment to welcome large number of tourists in 2018,” he said: “However, we need more foreign tourists as more than half of our business is dependent on domestic tourists.”
Hotels in Nepal have combined capacity to accommodate 2.5 million guests annually.
According to the Department of Tourism (DoT), there are 11 five-star, seven four-star hotels, 37 three-star hotels, 43 two-star hotels and 31 one-star hotels in the country. Besides, 501 tourist standard hotels and over 25o home-stay operators are also in operation, according to the department.