Nepal records highest tourist arrivals in eight years

Nepal, regarded a Shangri-La for holiday makers with its Himalayan ranges, assortment of religious shrines and network of casinos, has recorded the highest tourist arrivals in eight years.

According to the Nepal Tourism Board Monday, figures released by the Immigration Office at the Tribhuvan International Airport indicate that 50,567 tourists visited Nepal in October, the highest in a single month since 2000.

The opening of two more casinos, a host of adventure sports like Everest skydiving and mountain biking as well as international music and film festivals have contributed to lure more foreign tourists.

The total number of visitors till October 2008 reached 307,748 and if the October growth is any indication, by the year-end, it could catch up with the idyllic situation in 1999 – when the country had hosted 421,000 visitors.

India remains the largest tourist-generating market for Nepal, registering a 14 growth in October. It has set the trend for South Asia with an overall positive growth of 26.3 . In this, Bangladesh and Pakistan registered growth respectively by 73.9 and 35.3 . Only Sri Lanka showed a decrease of 5.9 %.

Other Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia and China have maintained the upward trend with 150.4 , 53.2, 24.4, 23.2 and 1.6 percentage growth respectively. However, Japan witnessed negative growth by 10.9 .

Britain, Israel, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden have also maintained the upward trend as well as the US and Canada. Only Italy and Spain registered decrease in arrival figures by 13.2 and 7.5 respectively.

Tourism has begun to look up since the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft on way to New Delhi from Kathmandu led to plummeting in the number of tourists to the Himalayan nation. The hijacking of the aircraft on Christmas Eve to Afghanistan and the slaying of a passenger by the hijackers, created a fear psychosis, rocking the tourism industry, one of the mainstays of Nepal’s economy. The figures continued to fall after the massacre of Nepal’s royal family in 2001, and the peaking of a communist insurgency that killed over 13,000 people.

Then in 2005 came the coup by then King Gyanendra, who shut down Nepal’s only airport, cut off phone lines nationwide and declared a state of emergency, delivering an additional blow to the ailing industry. Three years later, however, with the Maoist guerrillas having laid down arms and come to power through an election, tourism once again began to flourish in the country.

The Neopal Tourism Board is now hoping that the visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week to Lumbini in south Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha, will attract more Buddhists in the days to come.