The total number of tourists visiting Nepal has remained stagnant after the last sharp growth recorded during the 2011 Nepal Tourism Year. In fact, the total number of tourists has actually decreased in the last three years.
The dramatic growth in Chinese tourists by nearly 18 per cent in 2014 compared to the previous year could not offset the plummeting numbers of visitors from India which declined by 35 percent in the same period.
This led to a decrease in the total number of tourists in 2013 and 2014, according to figures released this week by Nepal tourism Board.
In 2012, the number of Indian tourists visiting Nepal by air was 163,142 and this fell to 105,282 in 2013. The number of Chinese tourists, on the other hand has been going up steadily: 113,173 in 2013 from 71,861 in 2012. In 2009, only 32,272 Chinese visited Nepal.
Travel trade officials say that the drop in Indian tourists was mainly due to security concerns, the closure of casinos in Nepal, and Indians having cheaper options to visit South-east Asian destinations. European tourists have also fallen off because of the economic crisis, and American visitors tend to be negatively affected by travel advisories issued by the embassy in Kathmandu.
Tourism entrepreneur Ranjan Rajbhandary says the lack of promotional activities was another reason for the steady drop in numbers. “We have not marketed Nepal well,” he says. “Tourists don’t know why to go to Nepal, what to do in Nepal. They also fear poor security situation resulting from news of political instability.”
However, none of this seems to affect the Chinese who are flying in droves. The reason appears to be publicity from a popular Chinese movie Up In the Air that was filmed on location in Nepal and went viral on the Chinese micro-blogging site, Weibo. Chinese guidebooks describe Pokhara as one of the top ten places ‘to see before you die’. Beijing has also declared Nepal as an ‘official destination’ for its nationals.
Nepal also seems to have benefited from increasing numbers of mainlanders visiting Tibet after the construction of the Beijing-Lhasa railroad.
“Most Chinese tourists who visit Lhasa want to visit Nepal as well,” he says. “From Lhasa, they can come to Kathmandu by bus or jeep and living costs are not as much here.”
To cope with the demand, air connectivity between Nepal and China has also grown, with four airlines operating 35 flights a week between Kathmandu and Lhasa, Chengdu, Kunming, Guangzhou
and Hong Kong. Sichuan Airlines is also set to add flights from the Chengdu hub.
The Chinese are coming, Claire Li Yingxue
The Chinese are coming, Cai Yun