President inaugurates Visit Lumbini Year; campaign targets over 2 million tourists

- MADHAV DHUNGANA, MANOJ POUDEL, LUMBINI

May 19, 2019-

President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Saturday inaugurated the Visit Lumbini Year 2076 BS, a campaign launched by Province 5 with an objective to draw more than 2 million visitors to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.

Bhandari drew the government’s attention to implement the 10-year master plan to develop Lumbini as a pilgrimage hub. The objective of the plan is to increase the length of stay and spending of tourists and improve the livelihood of local communities.

The plan envisages integrating Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha; Tilaurakot, his childhood home; Devdaha, his maternal and in-laws home town and Ramgram in Nawalparasi, which contains one of the relics of the Buddha, into the Greater Lumbini Development Area which will be 157 sq km in size. The president also urged the government to complete the development of Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa at the earliest. The Province 5 government has allocated Rs41.9 million budget for the campaign.

On the occasion, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that Lumbini would be developed as the World Peace centre where Buddhists will make a pilgrimage visit at least once in their lifetime.

The campaign has been aimed at attracting domestic visitors this year with Province 5 government starting promotional campaign drive in all seven provinces.

Bhairahawa, the gateway to Lumbini has transformed itself into one of Nepal’s largest tourism and industrial hubs with investors and the government pouring billions into infrastructure development.

The once sleepy market town in the Tarai plains was thrust on to the international stage after becoming the gateway to the pilgrimage destination of Lumbini. Proliferating factories and a rapidly spreading transportation network have turned Bhairahawa into an economic powerhouse.

Lumbini, which attracts international pilgrims as the birthplace of the Buddha, has observed the construction of large-scale infrastructure from an international airport, industrial corridor, trade highways to a bevvy of luxury hotels.

More than 1.55 million tourists visited Lumbini in 2017. Among them, there were 1.25 million domestic visitors, according to the statistics of the Lumbini Development Trust. The statistics show that foreigner numbers stood at 301,240, including 155,444 Indian visitors.

Despite the growth in foreign tourist numbers, foreign tourists’ stay in the birthplace of Buddha has not increased, travel trade entrepreneurs said. Nearly 90 percent of foreigners visiting Lumbini spend less than an hour in the area before moving on.

Foreign tourists usually stay for an average of 13 days in Nepal but most travellers visiting Lumbini barely stay for 30 minutes, according to a study conducted in 2013. The survey titled “Visitors Survey and Observation” revealed that 72.6 percent of the visitors spent only half an hour sightseeing in Lumbini.

Lumbini is a potential world-class tourist destination for 500 million Buddhists in Asia. It hosts the birthplace of the Buddha and over 100 related archaeological sites scattered within a 50-km radius.

Published: 19-05-2019 09:37

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