Kathmandu, April 9 Nepal’s tourism sector is slowly but surely recovering. However, tourism entrepreneurs lament the lack of urgency shown by Nepal Airlines Corporation in introducing and expanding services to the country’s neighbouring giants, which they claim is taking a bite out of Nepal’s tourism income.
India and China are the largest markets for the Nepali tourism industry.
With the increase in the number of Chinese tourists across the world, the Nepali tourism industry also has similar expectations.
Every year a large number of Chinese tourists travel across the world during the Chinese New Year, that starts from January 25 and continues for 15 days. Entrepreneurs in Nepal expect to welcome 20,000 to 30,000 Chinese tourists during the Chinese New Year. However, the expectation is yet to be met.
According to Nepal Tourism Board, 6,030 Chinese tourists visited Nepal in February, 2016. Similarly, 9,499 travellers visited the country in the same month in 2017, 15,393 visited in February of 2018 and a total of 16,205 Chinese tourists in February this year. Entrepreneurs say this number could significantly increase if NAC had direct flight connection with China.
“We would have received a larger number of Chinese tourists if only our national flag carrier had direct flights to China,” said CN Pandey, president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents. “Despite various efforts to attract Chinese visitors, the expensive airfare has become a big obstacle.”
According to him, the government has also privileged Chinese tourists with free visa service. “Also, we have trekking and tour guides who can speak Chinese language. Cultural heritage sites have also published brochures in Chinese language and a few banks are providing ATM services in Chinese language too.”
Meanwhile, NAC has said that it is in the process to start daily flights to China and will do so very soon. “Even our target passengers for the Nepal-China route are Chinese tourists. We are currently working on to operate our flights to the northern neighbour,” said Navaraj Koirala, joint spokesperson for NAC.
According to Koirala, they have submitted a few required documents to China and are now waiting for the response.
“We have almost completed our documentation work and now are in a state of wait and watch,” he said.
Once the submitted documents receive clearance from China, a high-level meeting will be conducted between aviation authorities of Nepal and China. Then only will the operation of flights be decided, he added.
Prior to this, NAC had planned to operate daily flights to China from March. However, till date no significant progress has been made on that front. As per tourism entrepreneurs, the airfare costs at least $300 to $450 for Chinese visitors to travel to Nepal.
This amount is enough for them to travel to other destinations like Bangkok and Dubai including South Asian countries, said Binayak Shah, general secretary of Hotel Association Nepal.
“Airfare for Chinese tourists to travel to Nepal is very expensive,” he said, “They can travel to other countries on a three-night, four-day package with just the amount they pay to come to Nepal by air.” He further said the national flag carrier plays a big role in attracting tourists as it will have more credibility and also be cheaper compared to other airlines.
As per Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal, around 70 per cent of total Chinese tourists travelling to Nepal come for adventure activities.