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Nepal eyes tourism spillover from India’s easy visa policy

Experts have said that the proposed visa liberalization by the Indian government will help increase tourist inflow in Nepal.

They added that there were greater chances of tourists visiting India making a trip to Nepal too due to the proximity. Travel trade entrepreneurs are also lauding the decision of the southern neighbour.

On Wednesday, as part of a major policy reform, the Indian government decided to extend the visa-on-arrival facility to travellers from nearly 180 countries from this year.

“Due to the proximity, the change in Indian policy will also influence Nepal’s tourism. And it’s a great opportunity for us,” said senior economist Biswamber Pyakurel.

The Indian government’s historic move is aimed at boosting its foreign exchange reserves, and it can be presumed that tourist arrivals in India will go up significantly, he added. “Even if Nepal can attract 1-2 percent of the total arrivals coming to India, it would be a great achievement for Nepal.”

Travel trade entrepreneurs said that the policy could change the existing dynamics of Nepal’s tourism that has been receiving tourists directly from the source markets.

Tourism entrepreneur Yogendra Sakya said that Nepal had been providing on-arrival visas to citizens of many countries, but India’s move reflects the fact that South Asia is becoming more tourist-friendly.

“Easy and hassle-free visas will make it easier for tourists to travel to South Asia, and increased influx in the region will definitely boost Nepal’s tourism too,” Sakya added.

At present, around 30 percent of the tourists visiting Nepal come via India due to limited direct air connectivity with the source markets. Airlines from India account for the largest share of inbound tourism in Nepal, with almost 48 percent of the 544,985 tourists visiting Nepal in 2011 flying in on them, according to Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), Kathmandu.

Meanwhile, according to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Nepal’s global travel and tourism ranking remained static in the 112th spot.

Among the South Asian countries, Nepal is placed above Pakistan and Bangladesh which hold the 122nd and 123rd spots respectively. However, Nepal is way below India and Sri Lanka that are at the 65th and 74th places. All the four countries except Nepal have made progress over the last two years.

Nepal is ranked 130th in tourism infrastructure and 121st in air transport infrastructure. It is placed fourth from the bottom among 140 countries in terms of ground transport infrastructure. However, Nepal is among the top 25 in terms of the least restrictive destinations to visit. “We have not been able to promote our potential at full swing. And even if we were to cash in on India’s policy reforms on tourism, we can take a number of initiatives like waiving visa fees for a certain period and facilitating arrivals through improved infrastructure,” added Pyakurel. “However, the first thing is that we need to keep our house in proper order.”

The Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Natta) said that the Indian government’s giving utmost priority to the tourism sector was a positive sign for Nepal’s tourism.

“Nepal can certainly reap benefits from India’s tourism policy, and we can expect a certain portion of the tourists entering India to add Nepal to their travel plans,” said Hari Sarmah, chief executive officer of Natta. “Even nominal numbers from India will mean a lot to Nepal.”

In 2012, India received 6.58 million foreign tourists, up 4.3 percent over the previous year. India’s foreign exchange earnings in 2012 from tourism amounted to US$ 17.74 billion. Nepal welcomed 803,092 tourists in 2012 who directly contributed Rs 30 billion to the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

Meanwhile, a tourist spent an average of 12.87 days in Nepal in 2012, down from 13.12 days in 2011, according to government statistics. Average tourist spending declined to a 16-year low of US$ 34.93 per day per person in 2012.

Among the total number of visitors, 43.30 percent came for holidaying, 13.59 percent for trekking and mountaineering, 12.76 percent for pilgrimage and 0.22 percent for rafting. Similarly, 4.09 percent were fun seekers, 3.15 percent business travellers and 1.71 percent seminar participants.

source: ekantipur, 08 Feb 2014

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