China overtakes India as top source country for Nepal tourists
Sangam Prasain | The Kathmandu Post, Nepal / Asia News Network | April 16, 2018 3:56pm
April 13--China overtook longtime record holder India as the top source country for tourists to Nepal with a 38.04 percent jump in arrivals in the first three months of this year, the Department of Immigration said.
According to the figures released by the department on Thursday, Nepal received 40,976 Chinese tourists--both land and air routes--from January to March. During the same period, the number of Indians visiting Nepal dropped by a marginal 0.98 percent to 34,133 individuals. Indians arriving Nepal via land route are not counted as tourists.
Industry sources attributed the dramatic growth from China to its changed policy towards Nepal after the formation of the left alliance government. Moreover, China now has the most extensive air connectivity with Nepal. Currently, five Chinese carriers--Air China, China Southern, China Eastern, Sichuan Airlines and Tibet Airlines--operate flights to Nepal. However, no Nepali carrier serves China.
The world's most populous country became the second largest source of visitors for Nepal last year with arrivals totaling 104,664 individuals. Travel trade entrepreneurs said Chinese tourists were also the biggest spenders.
Chinese arrivals to Nepal shrank sharply following the 2015 killer earthquake and India's trade embargo, dampening the enthusiasm of tourism entrepreneurs who had got their hopes up because of the fast rising market.
The twin disasters coming one after the other led to arrivals from China dropping to a four-year low of 64,675 individuals in 2015, down 47.76 percent from the previous year. The freefall had spread concern among Nepali travel traders about a possible sustained downturn in tourism.
In December 2015, Nepal announced free visas for Chinese tourists, giving them the same treatment accorded to Saarc visitors, in a bid to revive flagging arrivals. "The growth is mainly due to the Chinese New Year holidays in February," said Bishwesh Shrestha, managing director of Shuang Qi Tours and C&K Nepal Treks, one of the key travel agencies handling Chinese tourists.
"The private sector and the government has also been focusing on China to boost arrivals," he said, adding that the private sector had been considering starting chartered flights from different Chinese cities too. According to him, Nepali travel traders have been eying new Chinese cities. "We can expect 200,000 Chinese tourists this year, but the airport's capacity will be the biggest constraint," said Shrestha.
China's tourists today are the largest group of travellers in any country. Each year, 120 million Chinese vacationers head to foreign destinations to see the sights, which makes China the biggest tourism source market in the world. China's growing middle class is leveraging higher wages and the Belt and Road Initiative into a chance to explore Southeast Asia, and countries are scrambling to serve their incoming guests' needs. Nepal has witnessed constant growth in Chinese tourist arrivals since June 2009. However, it was in 2013 when Chinese arrivals crossed the six-digit mark.
Up in the Wind, a Chinese movie shot in Pokhara, has been a hit among youths since it was released in 2013, driving the popularity of the lake city among young Chinese who want to enjoy its scenery and adventure just like the characters in the movie.
Pokhara saw more Chinese visitors than Kathmandu, and some Chinese tourist guidebooks now list Pokhara as one of the 'top ten places in the world to see before you die'.
The Immigration Department's statistics show that tourist arrivals in Nepal jumped 13.38 percent to 286, 837 in the first three months of 2018.