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Pokhara tourism expects 2014 to herald new era of growth

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Shiva Sharma, KASKI
Pokhara tourism expects 2014 to herald new era of growth

Jan 1, 2014-

Pokhara tourism is getting ready for 2014 with a positive outlook. Following a sharp drop in the length of stay and tourist spending in the past few years, travel trade entrepreneurs are expecting a rebound with the New Year.

Many travel businesses are hopeful that the successful Constituent Assembly election held in November will bring stability and mark a turning point in the country’s tourism.

“Bookings to Nepal are coming back, but it does not match the potential that Nepal possesses,” said Basu Dev Tripathi, a tourism entrepreneur. “The country’s tourism industry was holding its breath when the election was conducted. And now, we feel that some positive changes are taking place.”

The private sector is no more hesitant to invest, particularly in Pokhara. There has been massive investments in the hospitality sector. “Investments in hotels and restaurants are unbelievable. Hotel and restaurant capacities have doubled,” said Tripathi, a former board member of the Nepal Tourism Board.

Within three years, Pokhara has added 8,000 room nights. At present, Pokhara’s hotels can accommodate more than 16,000 tourists daily. There are around 500 tourist standard hotels and many more are in the making.  

The future outlook is more encouraging as investors are eying the surrounding areas of Pokhara. Hills stations like Sarangkot, Dhampus, Pumdi Bhumdi and Sundari Danda of Lekhnath Municipality are now filling up with hotels with modern facilities.

Moreover, the spill over effect of Pokhara tourism has reached many villages like Lwang Ghalel, Kavre, Dhital and Bhadaure Tamagi due to individual and community-run home-stay facilities.

In the past year, Pokhara was considered to be a station for trekkers flocking to the Annapurna Region “Now, it is a destination in itself which people wish to visit at least once in their lifetimes,” said tourism entrepreneurs.

Pokhara tourism suffered a huge setback during the Maoist insurgency (1996-2006). Hotel occupancy rates collapsed from 80-90 percent during the Maoist insurgency to almost 20 percent. During the time, tourism entrepreneurs in Pokhara used to consider only Westerners as tourists. But the perception of hoteliers has changed now.

“Nepali visitors account for 40 percent of the occupancy now,” said Raj Kumar KC, executive manager of the Hotel Barahi at Lakeside Pokhara. Pokhara was known for three tourist seasons in past years. The period mid-January to mid-March is marked for Chinese tourists, mid-March to mid-May for tourists from India and mid-September to mid-November for tourists from the long-haul sector particularly the European and American segments.  

“However, now we see no seasonal bottleneck. As hoteliers are introducing various packages like Summer Splash, honeymoon packages and others, Pokhara has become a round-the-year destination,” added KC.

Hotel Barahi, the winner of the Best Hotel 2013 named by TripAdvisor.com, a global travel website that reviews and suggest the best hotels for both vacation and business trips, said 2013 had been good and the hotel recorded an average occupancy of 80 percent.

As hoteliers are always concerned about strikes and bandas, KC stressed the need for political stability. He said that its impact could create positive vibes across tourist markets resulting in record high occupancies.

Regardless of what Pokhara has been before, hoteliers are looking ahead at the broader picture. Some hoteliers were surprisingly upbeat about the 2013 scenario as there were fewer strikes compared to past years.

“Although we received some cancellations during the November poll, our bookings are above 80 percent, slightly above that recorded a year ago,” said Kiran Lama, executive assistant manager of Fish Tail Lodge, one of the luxury hotels in Pokhara. Lama highlighted the fact that the average daily room rate achieved by his hotel this year was US$ 180. The winner of Certificate of Excellence 2013 by Tripadvisor, Fish Tail Lodge predicts more encouraging days ahead with a wave of demand for mid-January onwards.

“The election has sent a positive message in the international arena and more and more visitors are ready to visit Pokhara. But our sole international airport does not have the capacity to react quickly to demand,” added Lama.  

Meanwhile, some entrepreneurs said that the course of Nepal’s tourism would depend on which political force leads the government. Rajendra Dhakal, executive member of Hotel Association Nepal, said the November election had offered hope to the multi-million dollar industry and the time had arrived to work to promote tourism.

“Regardless of which government leads the country, it must take care of tourism because everyone understands that tourism industry is one of the most important sources for national income,” said Dhakal who is also the managing director of the Hotel Glacier.  

Nepal has been enjoying a sustained positive growth in the number of international visitors since June 2009. The government decided in 2008 to launch a national tourism campaign Nepal Tourism Year 2011 in consultation with the private sector.

The campaign reflects the government’s aim to bring at least one million tourists by the year 2011. Subsequently, on Dec 7, 2011, the US government also relaxed its travel advisory against visiting Nepal.

According to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, the lake city draws around 400,000 international visitors each year. In 2012, Nepal received more than 800,000 tourists.

Published: 01-01-2014 09:46

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