Arrivals could hit 3m with second int’l airport

Lack of aviation infrastructure continues to hurt Nepal’s tourist arrivals, which could hit a three-million mark if the country gets a new international airport and cuts down its overdependence on Kathmandu airport .

The country’s only international gateway currently handles 4.5 million travellers a year. The figure stood at 4.28 million in 2011.

Though Tribhuvan International Airport’s upgradation is being carried out with funding from the Asian Develop-ment Bank, the limited airspace in the bowl-shaped Kathmandu valley will still create a bottleneck for the air traffic. Started in 2014, the first of the four-phase project, worth $92-million, will complete in 2028.

Passenger movement at TIA is projected to reach 5.85 million by 2015, a jump of 37 percent over the 2011 figure, according to a Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) study. Still, aviation experts warn the ongoing TIA development will not be able to keep pace with the growth in passenger volume.

“The aircraft and passenger movement has grown pretty well over a short span of time. But fast rising passenger and aircraft traffic movement has strained TIA to a saturation point,” said Birendra Bahadur Deuja, former secretary of the Tourism Ministry, speaking at a session on Nepal’s tourism prospects at the Nepal Economic Summit 2014.

Along with Deuja, experts said on Tuesday one major challenge for Nepal’s tourism is its poor civil aviation infrastructure. “And, given the current state of international airport —the lifeline to Nepal’s tourism—if we failed to develop the proposed full-fledged second international airport in Nijgadh immediately, there is no room for tourism growth here,” Deuja added.

The government is constructing “regional international airport s” in Bhairahawa and Pokhara, but this infrastructure still will not be sufficient to handle the growth, he said. “Let $2 billion be invested in a full-fledged international airport and, in return, Nepal will earn around $13 billion by 30 years,” he said. “And, it will not be difficult to attract 3 million visitors annually.”

Nepal relies heavily on air services to bring in international visitors, with 75 percent of tourists coming in by air. An additional international airport will also provide a boost to the domestic air traffic.

At the Nepal Economic Summit, experts also underscored the need for developing new strategies in order for Nepal to remain competitive in the global tourism market. “Airlines services should be consistent and reliable as it reflects the country’s image,” said John Felix, vice president of Malaysia Airlines Golden Holidays. “Given its vast tourism products potential, Nepal needs to develop a plan first.”

Nepal’s traditional tourism markets have been Europe and the US and it has failed to tap two large key markets next door—China and India.

Iqbal Mulla, president of Travel Agents Association of India, said the current arrivals figure from India (around 165,000) is gross underutilisation of the promises the closest neighbour offers.

“Nepal has a lot offer for Indian visitors, but something is wrong when the Indian arrivals to Nepal are accounted,” said Mulla. Thailand, Dubai, Malaysia and Singapore, among other markets, are flooded with Indian holidaymakers.

“By 2020, around 50 million Indian holidaymakers are expected to travel abroad, but I don’t see any enthusiasm from Nepal to capitalise on this,” he said, adding both the countries need to focus on a joint tourism promotion.

Shaun Mann, senior investment policy officer with International Finance Corporation, Sri Lanka, said Nepal has to ensure that it has the right capacity for the right markets. “There is a market for Nepal’s product and investors are willing to inject investment, but its political condition should be on track,” he said.

The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 published by the World Economic Forum shows among the South Asian countries, Nepal is way below India and Sri Lanka that are 65th and 74th in the rankings, despite Nepal’s natural allure and being among the world’s top 25 least restrictive destinations.

Nepal ranks 112th among 140 countries in the tourism competitiveness index.

“Obviously, price competitiveness and allure of nature and heritage has put Nepal on the 112th spot. But regarding other indicators, it is very poor,” Mann said, adding Nepal needs to be sector-specific if it is to remain competitive internationally.

Tourism experts say Nepal’s tourism industry earnings could grow 20-fold to Rs 600 billion annually within the next five years from the current Rs 30 billion, if it is marketed as a high-value destination.

source: ekantipur, 26 Feb 2014

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