Annual tourist arrivals from China crossed the 46,000 mark in 2010, a five-fold jump from 2001, attesting to the growing popularity of the Himalayan country among Chinese vacationers.
The northern neighbour has emerged as the second largest source market after India for Nepal. The number of Chinese tourists has already reached 33,375 (20,009 by air and 13,366 overland) by the first seven months of 2011.
Travel trade entrepreneurs said that increased flight connectivity between Nepal and China had supported the growth in tourist arrivals. Chinese carriers China Southern, China Eastern and Air China operate on the Guangzhou-Kathmandu, Kunming-Kathmandu and Lhasa-Kathmandu sectors respectively.
“An increase in flight frequency and rising interest in Nepal at both the government and non-government levels have boosted travels from China,” said Aditya Baral, spokesperson of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB).
Nepal’s Buddhist pilgrimage destinations and greater marketing efforts by Nepali tour operators in China also contributed to the growth in Chinese arrivals. “The significant presence of Chinese visitors has kept Nepal’s tourism sector busy even during the off-season.”
According to the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), Chinese outbound travellers have contributed to double-digit growth in the number of people visiting the Asia-Pacific region, taking the estimated 45 million arrivals in 2010 to as much as 60 million in 2011.
Travel from China to South Asia has grown 21 percent. Since 2005, arrivals from China to India has doubled, Nepal has seen the numbers triple, while arrivals from China to the Maldives and Bhutan have increased five-fold, according to PATA.
Although, the Chinese government had permitted Approved Destination Status (ADS) for Chinese outbound in November 2001, the number of Chinese tourists arriving in Nepal was nominal. Nepal had first participated in the China International Travel Fair in 2000 for the promotion of Nepal’s tourism.
“Nepal and China signed an initial memorandum of understanding (MoU) on an implementation plan for outbound travel by Chinese to Nepal in April 16, 2001 preparing the path for ADS,” said Kashi Raj Bhandari, director, planning and research at the NTB.
In 2002, ADS was granted by the China National Tourism Administration and in June 2002, Chinese citizens went to Nepal officially for the first time as tourists. Before 2000, Chinese were allowed to travel to Nepal only on official visits.
Bhandari said that the central banks of the two countries had signed an agreement on bilateral cooperation that allowed Chinese currency to be convertible in Nepal aiming to boost bilateral trade, tourism and economic cooperation.
Although entrepreneurs said that the quantum leap in arrivals from China was good for Nepal Tourism Year that has projected 100,000 visitors from China alone out of the targeted one million tourists, a massive Chinese influx could also make Nepal dependent on Chinese visitors.
Ashok Pokhrel, president of the Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO), said that although the number of Chinese tourists were increasing, it has not contributed significantly to the country’s tourism sector due to their short length of stay and low spending.
Pokhrel said that increased Chinese arrivals had boosted consumer confidence. But Nepal should not be focused or depend on a single market to make the country’s tourism a sustainable sector. “Being dependent on a single market means we are also inviting a potential crisis,” said Pokhrel, adding that increased tourists arrivals was good for the country’s economy, however, greater focus should be laid on attracting visitors from diverse markets.
Chinese tourist arrival
2011 (Jan-July) 33,375
(Source: Nepal Tourism Board)