China set to edge out India as No 1 tourist source

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu
China set to edge out India as No 1 tourist source

Apr 24, 2015-

China is poised to overtake India as the top tourist market segment for Nepal as the number of visitors from the northern neighbour continue to surge, largely due to increased airline connectivity and China’s changing policy towards Nepal.

According to preliminary data from the Tourism Ministry, Nepal received 123,805 Chinese visitors in 2014, up 10 percent year-on-year. In the same period, the number of Indians visiting Nepal dipped from  180,974 to135,343, down 25 percent.

Officials said that increased air connectivity was the chief factor for the surge in the number of Chinese tourists. Currently, four Chinese carriers—Air China, China Southern, China Eastern and Sichuan Airlines—are operating flights to Nepal. Sichuan Airlines started its daily flights along the Chengdu-Kathmandu-Chengdu route via Lhasa from the beginning of this month.

Meanwhile, Nepali start-up carrier Himalaya Airlines and the national flag carrier Nepal Airlines plan to start flight s to China within this year. In February last year, Nepal and China signed a revised bilateral air services agreement (ASA), permitting the operation of 56 flights per week. Under the old ASA, Chinese airlines were allowed to operate 14 flights to Nepal every week. Recently, Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat had said that the way Chinese tourists are coming to Nepal it would take no time for the most populous country on earth to become the top tourist market segment for Nepal.

“Obviously, Chinese numbers are growing by leaps and bounds, and assessing this growth trend, we need to focus on a number of facilitation measures,” said Mohan Krishna Sapkota, spokesperson for the ministry.

He said the government has accorded priority to re-establish all closed casinos which are mostly preferred by Chinese tourists. “Besides, we are focused on setting up diplomatic missions in different parts of China for the convenience of prospective Chinese visitors to Nepal.”

In 2013, the government had proposed appointing agents or Visa Facilitation Services in major Chinese cities. The plan, however, did not take off.

Globally, in 2014, the number of Chinese travelling abroad increased 19.49 percent to 107 million year-on-year, topping the threshold of 100 million for the first time, according to China National Tourism Administration.

China has been the world’s largest outbound tourism market since 2012, with a total expenditure of $29 billion in 2013. Chinese government data reveal that outbound tourists spent a record $164.8 billion overseas in 2014.

Bishwesh Shrestha, managing director of Shuang Qi Tours and C&K Nepal Treks, one of the major agencies handling Chinese tourists, said arrivals from the northern neighbour are increasing and the momentum is likely to continue for the next couple of years. Travel trade entrepreneurs say that growing FITs mean the country will see a big shift away from lower yielding group travel to more independent travellers.

Traditionally, the Chinese tourists prefer to travel with family or a group of close friends, a scenario which has been changing in recent times. Shrestha said there has been an increased movement of free independent travellers (FITs) from China and it augurs well for Nepal’s tourism industry.

Increases in independent travellers means they go farther and experience more of the country. Chinese favourite places in Nepal are Kathmandu, Pokhara, Jomsom and Muktinath. However, of late, the FITs are shifting towards soft adventure sports like trekking, paragliding and rafting in Nepal. “That’s why, Pokhara is always filled with Chinese,” Shrestha said, adding that their number is gradually increasing towards mountaineering activities as well.

Although Nepal is yet to attract upper class Chinese tourists, those who are coming here spend $100 a day on an average, said Shrestha. The government statistics show that on an average, tourists from other countries stay in Nepal for 12.51 days while the Chinese tourists stay for 9.48 days.

Nepal witnessed a constant growth in the number of Chinese tourist arrival since June 2009.

Although Nepal had been given Approved Destination Status (ADS) by China in 2002, the number of Chinese tourists was nominal.

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.

comparing footfalls

Year    Chinese    Indian

2014    123,805    135,343

2013    113,173     180,974

2012    71,861    165,815

2011    61,917    149,504

2010    46,360    120,848

2009    32,272    93,884

2008    35,166    91,117

2007    28,618    96,010

2006    17,538    93,722

2005    22,377    95,685

(Source: Tourism Ministry)

Published: 25-04-2015 08:42

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