KATHMANDU: Based on current data, international tourist arrivals to Nepal could reach a new milestone in 2012. This is a positive indicator and with a little more organised effort tourism could be the sector that upholds the overall economy.
The figures released by Immigration Office at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) reveal that tourist arrivals reached 42,031 with 27.7 per cent of robust growth in January this year compared to the same month last year. The upward trend continued in the month of February, when Nepal received 42,716 tourists, with a 13.7 per cent increase compared to February of last year. March and April saw 63,799 and 59,415 visitors respectively, with 37.2 per cent and 14.3 per cent increase compared to the same months last year. Normally April sees a higher growth rate in the number of holidaymakers from India and the East Asian region. In keeping with this norm, a sustained growth of 36.8 per cent has been observed in the arrivals from the South Asian region during the first four months of 2012, against the figures from last year.
Although tourism entrepreneurs are naturally enthused by observing the increased tourist inflow, they are also sceptical about the future. “Business has been good for the last three years, and at present the scenario is more promising than ever,” says Raju Bikram Shah,
senior general manager at Hotel Shangri~La. But he is cautious as the market is volatile, dealing with an influx of impromptu planners rather than those arriving with a long-term itinerary.
Along with the boost in tourist arrivals, foreign exchange earnings from tourism are also on a rise. The statistics of Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) reveal that income from travel trade has increased in the first three months of this fiscal year.
According to NRB, tourism revenue amounted to Rs 57.9226 billion from Rs 44.8069 billion in the same period last year. According to Economic Survey 2011 conducted by the Ministry of Finance, the length of stay of tourists and their spending have both gone up as of mid-January 2011 when compared to the same period previous year. The length of stay went up from 11.32 days to 12.67 days and the daily expenditure from Rs 2,835.59 to Rs 3,271.40.
The industry has particularly seen a higher growth of tourists from India, China and Tibet. Talking about the need to attract the European market, Shah says, “The mountains of Nepal have been so extensively promoted in Europe that most Europeans are led to believe there is hardly anything else worth seeing in the country. As they have negligible knowledge about other tourism avenues such as adventure or culture, they give the country a miss during the monsoon season, when it is impossible to enjoy the Himalayas.” According to him, it is high time Nepal was promoted as a destination for other aspects as well to invite the long-haul market. Hotel Shangri~La is launching their monsoon packages from May 15 as a part of this effort.
Similarly, other hotels also report almost full occupancy since the beginning of the year. “Tourism movement in the first four months has been good and based on the current booking figures, it is easy to estimate that the occupancy will reach 90 per cent in the coming months,” says Prahlad Kunwar, general manager of Radisson Hotel. For this positive leap, Kunwar partly credits the marketing and promotion conducted during Nepal Tourism Year 2011, especially in neighbouring India and China. According to him, apart from these countries, there is also an increase
in arrival of tourists from Korea, Thailand and Malaysia. Kunwar is also vigilant about the hitches this could invite. “Last year, it was difficult to accommodate tourists, as hotels were unable to provide the rooms on demand. The same situation might recur if corrective measures are not taken,” he cautions. To welcome guests, hotels are also expanding and Radisson Hotel has already added 62 rooms, which are in operations and is in the process of adding 38 more within the next few months.
Similarly, Soaltee Crowne Plaza reported 15 to 18 per cent increase in hotel occupancy this year as compared to last year. “Business is definitely on the upswing, and we are expecting five to seven per cent increase in the number of arrivals,” says Samba Bikram Shah, director of sales and marketing department at Soaltee Crowne Plaza. According to Hotel Association of Nepal, with increased tourist arrivals, they are recieving requests from parties interested in operating hotels.
Entrepreneurs opine that good business without seasonal bottlenecks can be ensured in all the months if the constitution is drafted on time. “One of the factors for increased tourist arrivals is the prevailing peace process and improving political situation. If the constitution is not delivered on time and the political scenario derails, our current bookings will be cancelled, resulting in a bad patch for the entire industry,” adds Raju Bikram Shah.
Similarly, Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) has also reported an upsurge in number of trekkers this time around. “The number of tourists opting for trekking is satis-factory at present, but the numbers could be even more substantial if the government had adjusted the trekking and mountain-eering fees,” says Mahendra Singh Thapa, president of TAAN. Last year, almost 40 per cent of the total tourists went on treks. According to Thapa, although this is encouraging, Nepal is losing further tourists as it has become an expensive adventure destination because of spiralling fees.
This is causing a shift and trekking is expanding in India, Tibet and Pakistan.
Thapa continues, “Nepal has not generated as much income as it could from trekkers because of the removal of provision of minimum benchmark for depositing capital in NRB.” Earlier, parties conducting treks were required to deposit a certain amount in NRB, which made the economic process transparent. However, once the government nullified this mandate, even unauthorised personnel began to conduct treks, which dealt a blow to real professionals. “We are making efforts from our side to set the benchmark for trekkers and the government is positive about it,” adds Thapa. He requests the government to make the restricted areas available for tourist activities. The government has restricted Upper Dolpa, Mustang and Manang for trekking, which means trekkers have to shell out additional USD 350 to visit the regions. Thapa says, “Had there been a policy to address such enthusiastic trekkers, then more of them would visit the area, guaranteeing a higher income. This will also lessen illegal operations being conducted by unauthorised institutions.”
Trekking packages in Nepal start from USD 70 per day, and the length of a normal trek lasts for 15 days. To further this popular venture, TAAN is exploring the possibilities of various destinations like Sindhupalchowk, Taplejung, Humla and Dolpa besides the most visited Annapurna and Everest route.