Nepal hopes for rebounding tourism with more Chinese arrivals expected
Tourism professionals in Nepal have been elated these days as their country was included lately on a second list of 40 destinations by China for group tours from Wednesday.
"We had been waiting for this news for long," a smiling Kishore Raj Pandey, chairman of Saathi Nepal Travel and Tours, told Xinhua.
Pandey is a pioneer in bringing Chinese tourists to Nepal in 2001 after China declared the South Asian country an outbound destination for Chinese visitors.
Pandey has already received notification from two Chinese travel and tour agents that they are sending two groups of Chinese to Nepal in March.
"We received inquiries from Chinese travel agents before China opened the gate for its citizens to visit Nepal again starting from March 15," the chairman said. "Now these inquiries are likely to be translated into actual visits."
China's resumption of outbound travel to Nepal comes as a great relief to the tourism sector, as has been reported by media outlets.
The tourism industry is an important foreign currency earner and job creator for Nepal, but it suffered a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019 before the pandemic hit, Nepal welcomed 1.19 million foreign arrivals, including a record 169,543 Chinese tourists, according to Nepal Tourism Board.
The Chinese arrivals fell to 19,257 in 2020, and down further to 6,198 and 9,599 respectively in 2021 and 2022 amid COVID-related restrictions, while the total number of foreign visitors declined to 230,085 and 150,962 in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
China was the second largest source of foreign tourists for Nepal before the pandemic struck.
Nepal's tourism industry is recovering, with 614,148 foreigners coming to the country in 2022. And in February, the country received 2,266 Chinese tourists, the highest since March 2020.
The Himalayan country has set a target of attracting 1 million foreign tourists in 2023, and hopes for a sustained growth in tourism in the next decade.
Nepal's Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation unveiled a strategic framework last December for Nepal Tourism Decade 2023-2032, aiming to draw in at least 3.5 million tourists in the next 10 years.
"China's decision to send its citizens to Nepal will help us to achieve our target because it was the second largest source market before COVID-19," Mani Raj Lamichhane, spokesperson at Nepal Tourism Board, told Xinhua.
Travel agencies in Nepal are expecting a surge in Chinese arrivals, according to press reports.
Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, while addressing Nepal-China investment and business forum 2023 in Kathmandu on Tuesday, lauded China's latest move to list Nepal as a priority destination for Chinese tourists.
Chinese airlines have started resuming flights to Nepal.
Sichuan Airlines announced scheduled flights to and from Kathmandu from March 20, with four weekly flights from Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, to Kathmandu.
China Southern Airlines, Air China and Himalaya Airlines, a China-Nepal joint venture, have also been conducting regular flights between Kathmandu and Chinese cities.
"After the reopening of the gate for Chinese tourists to visit Nepal in groups starting from March 15, we can expect more two-way flights in the days to come," said Bishwesh Shrestha, managing director of Shuang Qi Tours Pvt. Ltd.
Nepali travel agencies are planning trips to China as well for promotional campaigns.
Shrestha, who is also president of the Chinese Tour Operators Alliance Of Nepal, said that he and others had planned to visit various cities in China in the second week of April.
According to stakeholders in the sector, it is not difficult to welcome more Chinese tourists because the infrastructure had been put in place for Visit Nepal 2020, which was canceled due to COVID-19.
"Two new international airports had been built in the tourism city of Pokhara in western Nepal and in southwestern city of Bhairahawa," noted Lamichhane. "A number of hotels have notified us that they have already dedicated restaurants to Chinese tourists." ■