Sangam Prasain, The Kathmandu Post, 31 May 2018
The federal budget presented by Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada on Tuesday announced the launch of Visit Nepal campaign version 3.0 in 2020 with the goal of attracting 2 million foreign tourists.
The declaration has put pressure on the government to complete two long-running airport upgradation projects: Gautam Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa and Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu.
It is vital for the government to have these two air hubs ready by then if it is to accomplish the arrivals target. Both projects have been crawling ahead due to various reasons for the past four-five years.
“The Tourism Ministry postponed the Visit Nepal 2018 campaign till 2020 due to the slow pace of the road and airport upgradation and heritage restoration projects,” said Ghanshyam Upadhyay, spokesperson for the ministry.
“Now, after doing a proper assessment, the government has officially declared the campaign for 2020. By 2019, the upgradation of TIA and Lumbini airport will be completed,” he said. “However, the reconstruction of historical monuments and cultural heritage sites will not be fully completed.”
Meanwhile, former finance minister and Nepali Congress leader Ram Sharan Mahat told the Post that the target of bringing 2 million tourists by 2020 was unrealistic. He said that the goal would not be attainable without ensuring proper infrastructure.
The private sector too is skeptical about the goal. “Doubling tourist arrivals from nearly 1 million to 2 million within 18 months is an ‘over ambitious’ target,” said Binayak Shah, general secretary of Hotel Association Nepal (Han). “This is due to the delivering capacity of the government which is quite disappointing,” he said. “However, if the upgradation is completed in time, we can expect 1.5 million tourists considering the growth in early 2018.”
Han said that the country would see an addition of 10,000 room nights across the country, 4,000 in the Kathmandu Valley alone, by 2020. “There won’t be problems with availability of rooms. The private sector is ready to accommodate 2 million tourists,” said Shah.
The budget has mentioned focusing on the two giant neighbours, China and India, which have the world’s highest outbound numbers. In a bid to boost Indian tourist arrivals, the ministry has been working to launch cross-border flights from airports like Nepalgunj and Biratnagar.
Private carrier Buddha Air has announced connecting New Delhi, India from Nepalgunj; and another domestic carrier Shree Airlines is waiting for the government’s nod to fly abroad.
The first national tourism campaign was launched in 1998 when Nepal hosted 463,684 visitors, representing a growth of 10 percent. In 2011, the government launched another Nepal Tourism Year campaign with the goal of bringing 1 million tourists. Although actual arrivals fell short of the target, 736,215 tourists visited the country, or a growth of 22 percent over the previous year.
Travel trade entrepreneurs said that the government should focus on untapped niche products like medical tourism, rural tourism and ecotourism, religious tourism and casino tourism instead of focusing on adventure tourism only.