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Rebound in Chinese arrivals cheers up Nepal’s tourism

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Mar 25, 2016-Chinese arrivals to Nepal shrank sharply following the 2015 killer earthquake and India’s trade embargo, dampening the enthusiasm of tourism entrepreneurs who had got their hopes up because of the fast rising market. 

Visitors from the northern neighbour are valued as they have helped to pull up Nepal’s tourism industry after arrivals from the traditional European markets started trailing off due to political instability and a wobbly economy. 

The earthquake and embargo coming one after the other led to arrivals from China dropping to a four-year low of 66,984 individuals in 2015, down 45.89 percent from the previous year. The freefall had spread concern among travel traders about a possible sustained downturn in tourism.

However, the figures for March have cheered up gloomy faces in the industry. “Chinese tourists are coming back to Nepal,” said Hari Sarmah, CEO of the Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Natta). 

The disasters in Nepal had prompted Chinese tourists to change their travel plans, with many heading to Sri Lanka, he added. Thanks to the efforts of the governments of both Nepal and China, Chinese tourists are returning in droves. 

Nepal should be promoted urgently in China, Sarmah said. Suiting the action to the word, Natta is scheduled to hold a 10-day Nepal Sales Mission in China beginning on April 10. He said that the mission would focus on China’s four biggest cities—Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Hangzhou.

On December 25, 2015, Nepal had announced free visa for Chinese tourists, giving them the same treatment accorded to Saarc visitors, in a bid to revive flagging arrivals. The free visa fee scheme was implemented in January this year. Despite the drop in arrivals, China remains Nepal’s second largest source of tourists.

But will visitors from the northern neighbour, the fastest-growing outbound tourism market in the world, keep visiting Nepal? 

“As the two countries have close ties, tourism will expand,” said Bishwesh Shrestha, managing director of Shuang Qi Tours and C&K Nepal Treks, one of the major agencies handling Chinese tourists. But flight and road connectivity with China, which was crippled by the earthquake and fuel shortage, needs to be resolved first, he said. 

Chinese carriers that have reduced their flight frequency are yet to resume full-fledged operations. Besides, the major surface route linking China, the Tatopani border point, should be brought into operation to boost Chinese visitors in the short term. 

“In the long run, Nepal’s tourism industry has a bright future,” Shrestha said, adding that Chinese arrivals would swell once Nepal is connected by rail and road with the northern neighbour. 

Nepal and China on Wednesday agreed to support each other’s tourism promotion activities in their respective countries to enhance people-to-people contacts, said a joint communiqué issued in Beijing during the visit of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to China. China has expressed willingness to provide Chinese language training in Nepal to 200 Nepali tourism professionals in the next five years.  

Likewise, China has decided to hold the seventh China Festival and second Kathmandu Cultural Forum this year and further enhance China-Nepal cultural cooperation through the platform of the Chinese Cultural Centre in Nepal. 

China has been the world’s largest outbound tourism market since 2012. According to the China Tourism Research Institute, China had 120 million outbound visitors in 2015 and they spent $104.5 billion, recording increases of 12 percent and 16.7 percent from 2014. 

The main driving forces behind the increases are a rise in personal incomes, favourable policies and appreciation of the Chinese yuan. However, because of the earthquakes in Indonesia and Nepal, the growth rate of outbound tourism had been gradually declining, the institute said. 

Nepal has witnessed constant growth in the number of Chinese tourist arrivals since June 2009. Although Nepal had been given Approved Destination Status (ADS) by China in 2002, the number of Chinese tourists then was small.

In 2002, the China National Tourism Administration granted ADS to Nepal and in June that year, Chinese citizens began visiting Nepal officially for the first time as tourists. Before 2000, Chinese were allowed to travel to Nepal only on official visits.

 

Published: 25-03-2016 08:40

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