Fall in arrivals by air during peak tourist season does not bode well for Visit Nepal 2020Visitor arrivals by air fell by 17.46 percent in November, which is considered peak tourist season for Nepal.
Foreign tourist arrivals to Nepal by air fell drastically in November, the country’s peak tourist season, recording the worst decline ever in a single month. The largest drop in a single month earlier was in November 2001 due to the royal massacre on June 1 that year.
According to the Department of Immigration, tourist arrivals plunged 17.46 percent to just 98,548 individuals in November. That means Nepal lost 20,851 tourists in a single month, despite the peak tourist season and optimism that the 2019 South Asian Games would boost arrivals. The South Asian Games ended on December 10.
Figures for land arrivals, however, have not been released yet, but are estimated to number around 30,000.
The drop in air arrivals does not bode well for the tourism industry as the country will be inaugurating the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign on Wednesday, with a target of bringing in 2 million foreign tourists.
In the last two decades, since Nepal celebrated the first Visit Nepal campaign in 1998, the month of November has rarely seen a fall in tourist arrivals. Clear skies and warm days make autumn the most favourable season and thousands of people hit the trails in the Everest and Annapurna regions.
Statistics show that Chinese tourists who came to Nepal by air jumped 18.25 percent to 15,307, highest among all countries in November.
The two-day state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Kathmandu in October has started impacting Nepal’s tourism, travel trade entrepreneurs said. There are several global instances where Xi, one of the world's most powerful men, creates an impact on tourism within China and beyond, wherever he visits.
Xi became the first Chinese president to visit Nepal since 1996 and said that he will encourage Chinese tourists to visit Nepal.
“Nepal is the first South Asian country to be designated an approved destination for Chinese tourists,” Xi said in an article published in Nepali papers during his visit.
Arrivals from India, however, dropped 6 percent to 15,188 individuals.
According to Nepal Tourism Board officials, November saw a strong drop in foreign tourist arrivals because of last year’s windfall in arrivals.
“Last year, arrivals in November were not realistic, as they grew strongly by 50 percent. We failed to maintain the same momentum this year,” said a senior tourism board official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The South Asian Games may have brought home 8,000 to 10,000 tourists, but did not help the figure grow.”
Basanta Raj Mishra, a tourism entrepreneur, said that the scenario looks bleak for the tourism industry.
“It’s obviously a big worry because arrivals have dropped in a key month,” said Mishra. “This was partly because India struggled with extreme pollution levels in November and there were hundreds of foreigners cancelled trips.”
According to Mishra, Americans and Europeans, in particular, choose a combined tour of the region and end up in Nepal.
“A certain percentage of tourists spills over from India to Nepal,” said Mishra.
However, Mishra said that this was only a partial reason; the primary one being that the government has largely failed to attract visitors.
“The Nepal government announced Visit Nepal next year but it is doing nothing on the promotional and marketing fronts,” said Mishra.
Travel trade entrepreneurs said that the Visit Nepal Secretariat has only done a
few things, like signing agreements with some companies and advertising on buses in some cities. That has hardly convinced tourists, they say.
“For international promotions, a large number of travel writers and tour operators should be invited to Nepal,” said Mishra. “Most countries with similar campaigns conduct promotional activities a year or six months in advance. We still don’t have a plan.”
The government has allocated more than Rs600 million to the secretariat to carry out promotional activities abroad.
Bachhu Narayan Shrestha, member secretary of the secretariat, said that they have not fully received the funds allocated by the government, only a partial Rs250 million.
Nepal Tourism Board officials said that Rs250 million was a paltry sum for international promotional campaigns and most of that amount will be spent on interactions with Nepali embassy officials, which will not help draw tourists to Nepal.
Shrestha said they held an interaction at Nepali missions in Japan and Spain recently on ways to promote the campaign.
“We have also planned to inaugurate Visit Nepal 2020 in all embassies on January 7,” he said. “Of the 32 embassies, 12 have confirmed the inauguration.”
Nepal’s luxury hotels are worried too.
A large number of hotels have been built in the country and it will be challenging for them if tourist arrivals do not match the development, Oriental Hotels said in its recent filing to the stock market. Oriental’s unaudited report for the third quarter showed a net profit of Rs207.45 million, up from Rs195.11 million in the same period last year.
Most hotels, however, reported slow profit growths and were expecting that November, the peak season, would bring in more tourists, according to travel trade entrepreneurs.