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Nepal, India move closer to historic pact on tourism

Nepal and India are poised to sign a historic memorandum of understanding (MoU) on investment and cooperation in the tourism sector.

Stakeholders from both sides gathered here on Monday to discuss a mutually agreed draft MoU, jointly prepared by a technical team from the travel and tourism sectors of both the countries.

As per the team findings, to facilitate overland tourists, it has been recommended to create hassle-free transport movement at major border points and ease frontier formalities at the customs. The team has recommended instilling a sense of security among visitors to create an opportunity in the tourism sector.

As Nepal has not been able to explore full tourism potential in the Far West Region, the panel has recommended opening of the Banbasa Bridge on the Nepal-India border for more than 12 hours from the current three hours a day.

The panel has also recommended that Nepal cash in on the travel benefits provided to Indian holidaymakers as leave travel concession. Effective coordination with Indian railway and Indian airlines was among other recommendations of the panel. “As expensive airfare has been a major concern for Indian travellers, the governments of Nepal and India must jointly take an initiative to reduce ticket prices,” said travel trade entrepreneur Yogendra Sakya. “This can be done by reducing ground handling and parking charges for airlines on a reciprocal basis.”

The panel has also recommended that landing and parking charges be imposed in Indian currency terms. One of the pertinent issues raised was the restriction on the transaction of 500- and 1,000-rupee Indian currency notes in Nepal. “Restriction on transaction of IRs 500 and IRs 1,000 denomination Indian banknotes has been a stumbling block,” Sakya said.

Meanwhile, the panel has recommended eliminating confusions about debit and credit cards. Cards issued by Indian banks are imprinted “the card is not valid for foreign exchange in Nepal and Bhutan”. However, the cards actually are valid in Nepal and this confusion should be removed, Sakya added.

The panel has proposed holding annual Nepal-India tourism forum meeting and explore possibility of a joint tourism promotion abroad. With stakeholders’ input, the panels representing all major chambers of Nepal will handover the draft to the tourism ministries of both the countries for the signing of the MoU.

“I assure to send these precise recommendations made for the two governments to address the tourism sector of both countries with strong endorsement to our tourism ministry,” said Ranjeet Rae, newly-appointed Indian  ambassador to Nepal.

As “India is a travel bug” now, there is no reason that Indian will not come to Nepal, Rae said, underscoring the need for targeted promotion in specific cities to increase Indian travellers. Rae said like in the past, Nepal should attract film producers who are the major promotional drivers. Besides, millions of Buddhist population has intense desire to visit the birth place of Gautam Buddha in Nepal and given this opportunity, we should work together for the development of Lumbini, Rae said.

Tourism Secretary Sushil Ghimire said the proposed MoU will explore investment opportunities. He said the ministry is ready to revise the air service agreement with India if the existing air seat facility is not adequate to cater to increasing travellers’ movement. “On behalf of my ministry, I will leave no stone unturned to facilitate and address or convince the Nepal government on the need of MoU between the two governments.”

The Monday’s meeting is a follow-up of the July 2012 meeting with the Nepali delegation with the Ministry of External Affairs of India’s Northern Division that has prioritised tourism as one of the most important sector.

Visitors from India, the largest tourist source market for Nepal, spent 9.34 days per visit per person on an average last year compared to 7.99 days a year before. Nepal received 174,146 visitors from India last year, among whom 122,775 were first-time visitors.

source: the kathmandu post, 09 Sept 2013

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