KATHMANDU, Nepal- The growing number of Chinese tourists to Nepal in recent years has brought cheers among tourism entrepreneurs in the country. A total 71,861 Chinese visited Nepal in 2012 – nearly a nine-fold jump from 2001 when the country received Approved Destination Status (ADS) from China.
According to the Nepal Tourism Board, Chinese tourists arriving via air to Nepal increased by 24.2 percent, to 38,767, in the first eight months of this year. Chinese tourists hold a 10.5 percent market share in Nepal after India.
In the early years, the number of Chinese tourists was nominal. Only 8,738 Chinese visited the country in 2001. Though Nepal had high hopes from the Chinese market, the number of Chinese to Nepal fell marginally in 2002 and 2003. However, arrivals increased remarkably in 2004 and 2005, before stuttering in 2006. Barring 2009, arrivals from China have been growing at a very healthy rate. Today, China is the biggest tourist generating market for Nepal after India. The share of Chinese tourists in total tourist arrival was recorded at 8.9 percent in 2012 compared to mere 2.4 in 2001.
According to tourism entrepreneurs, the main factors behind growing number of Chinese tourists to Nepal are the country’s proximity to China, increasing air connectivity and growing availability of Chinese-friendly tourism services. At present, three Chinese airlines – Air China, China Eastern and China Southern operate – operate scheduled flights to Nepal. While, China Southern links Kathmandu to Guangzhou, China Eastern and Air China fly to Kathmandu from Kunming and Lhasa, respectively.
Meanwhile, Nepal and China are ready to revise the bilateral air service agreement (ASA) allowing the either side add up extra air seats as travel demand has surpassed the seat capacity given to Chinese carriers.
Three Chinese carriers-Air China, China Southern and China Eastern-currently serve Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) and new carriers from China have expressed interest in servicing Nepal.
The number of Chinese tourists, however, is very nominal considering the growing number of outbound Chinese visitors. More than 83 million Chinese traveled to different international destinations in 2012. China is the world’s fastest growing tourism market.
According to United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Chinese are now the biggest spenders in the world. Chinese tourists spent a total of US$ 102 billion in 2012 — 40 percent rise from their spending of US$ 73 million in 2011. Chinese tourists spend US$ 1,230 per trip in average.
Entrepreneurs say, Nepal has lot more to do to reap more benefits from the world’s largest tourism market lying next doors. The country has been failing to promote Lumbini – the birthplace of Lord Buddha – and other Buddhist heritage sites, they said. There are more than 100 million Buddhists in China. If Nepal managed to draw only a fraction of them, it would contribute a lot to the national economy. Also, the government needs to produce more Chinese speaking tour guides, encourage entrepreneurs to open more Chinese restaurants, build necessary tourism infrastructures and promotional collaterals in Chinese language. It should also take initiatives to establish air connectivity to big Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai.