Traffic jamTourism sector could replace floundering remittance, provided infrastructure matches aspirations
There have been ample indications that last year was a good year for Nepal’s tourism sector. For one, the country’s total number of tourist inflows in 2017 almost hit the 1 million mark that has been touted since the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 campaign. There were 940,218 tourist arrivals registered by the end of December. Secondly, a recent report by the World Travel & Tourism Council on the sector’s impact on the economy estimates that tourism, in total, contributed Rs188.93 billion ($1.7 billion) to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017. This is a 6.2 percent rise from the previous year, when tourism had contributed towards 7.5 percent of the GDP.
At a time when remittance has reached its saturation point and is beginning to see a slump, according to the Nepal Rastra Bank, growth in the tourism sector is indeed positive news. Trends suggest that tourism is seeing upward growth all over the world (3.1 percent aggregate), with the industry outpacing overall growth in the global economy (2.5 percent). Growth in tourism could feasibly replace a large portion of the contribution of remittance to the national GDP. Thailand’s tourism industry, for instance, currently contributes towards almost 10 percent (or $36.7 billion) of its GDP. Potential estimates see the contribution rising to over 25 percent in the next ten years, according to the WTTC. Nepal, however, has a long way to go to attract a larger share of the world’s tourists—and the potential wealth they would bring. And it begins at the arrival gate.
Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), the country’s only international airport, lies in a sorry state. CNN reported in March last year that TIA was ranked the 10th worst airport in the world. Its sole runway, due for a major overhaul 10 years ago, has only recently seen legitimate attempts to fix—with work on it hopefully beginning this year. The airport is operating at maximum capacity, and those local airlines wishing to add new aircraft or begin operations are being curtailed from doing so for the lack of parking bays to hold jets. A phase-wise expansion plan was halted after the civil aviation authorities fired the Spanish contractor for repeatedly missing deadlines. Its proposed competitors, such as in Nijgadh and Bhairawa, are facing indecisions and deadline misses. At the same time, the road infrastructure improvement projects too have hit many snags: Delays in completing the Narayanghat-Mugling highway, the main artery connecting the plains and the hills, come to mind.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s promise of a prosperous Nepal may well be achieved through a growth in the tourism sector. Even attracting more tourists from our two neighbours would drive tremendous growth. India and China rank among the highest travellers in the world. Chinese tourists in particular have taken more domestic and overseas trips (4.53 billion) last year than three times their 1.38 billion population. However, the existing bottlenecks in aviation infrastructure greatly hamper such aspirations. Hope remains that the new government will be better at fixing the gateways to Nepal, so that the country does not miss out on the global spurt in travel.