2020 was supposed to be a landmark year for tourism. Nepal spent $2 million to attract 2 million visitors. Visit Nepal Year 2020 yeti mascot figures were ready to welcome guests. But Covid-19 put a stop to everything.
2021 was the worst year in Nepal’s tourism since 1977. Foreign visitors dropped from 1.2 million in 2019 to 150,962.
But after three years, tourists are streaming back to Nepal for the autumn peak season. The number of visitors by year from January-August reached nearly 330,000 – almost half of them from India, and the rest from US, UK and Australia.
“Pre-pandemic figures were certainly much higher for that period, but we are getting there. Nepal has bounced back and we are catching up,” says Mani Raj Lamichhane at the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), adding that tourists from Bangladesh, China, France, Germany and Turkey are seeing significant increases.
Despite the global economic crisis, after-effects of the pandemic, an unusually rainy post-monsoon, and a dengue outbreak in Kathmandu, September arrivals reached almost 80,000, with October and November expected to be even higher.
“We have a very steady flow of visitors staying at the hotel this season and occupancies have gone up since 2021,” says Vikram Singh at Aloft Kathmandu. “The fact that visitors were not deterred by the rains or dengue has made us even more optimistic about bookings for November and December.”
Read also: Nepal’s airlines fly high despite turbulence, Nepali Times
Hotels in Kathmandu and Pokhara were running at near-full occupancy either with international or domestic tourists this Dasain. Trekkers, mountaineers, sightseeing tourists and pilgrims thronged restaurants.
Sonia Miyahara of Hotel Everest View in Syangboche is encouraged by the footfall this trekking season, but says there were challenges. She added: “Erratic weather throughout this year in the region affected logistics, and itineraries had to be changed at the last minute.”
Miyahara cautions that traffic has not quite gone back to pre-Covid levels, and the decision to move all Lukla flights from Kathmandu to Ramechhap have not helped. “Even so, we are booked through the end of November,” she adds.
Nepal’s tourism sector makes up 8% of GDP and directly employs at least 1 million people, with many more depending on the industry. The pandemic had all but ruined the industry, with porters and guides who lost incomes for nearly three years worst affected. Hoteliers with large bank loans are also in trouble with creditors reluctant to reschedule.
For Nepal’s tourism planners, this has been a steep learning curve not to put all the eggs in one basket. The country needs to diversify, promote visitors from neighbouring countries and push religious tourism as buffer from international upheavals and growing climate consciousness.
This is why NTB is launching a strong digital marketing drive highlighting Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage, adventure sports, wildlife and mountains.
“We will be resuming promotions at international travel fairs like the one in Japan in September and UK in November to increase Nepal’s visibility as a centre of culture and adventure tourism,” adds Lamichhane.
A lot of the publicity for Nepal in the pasts three years has been free: through Netflix series like 14 Peaks, and traveler vlogs. Nepal’s tourism hit rock bottom, now there is nowhere to go but up.
Read also: Peak climbing season in Nepal, Nepali Times