When immigration officials at Dubai or Kuala Lumpur airports saw a green Nepali passport they automatically used to look for the work permit. But with the number of outbound Nepali tourists on the rise, they now turn the pages for tourist visas.
Kathmandu airport is busy these days: the arrival concourse is packed with Nepali migrant workers who have started returning home for holidays, and across the hall there are throngs of Nepali families flying out for foreign vacations.
It is not just individuals and families taking flights to Malaysia, Singapore, Bali or the UAE, Nepali companies are also offering employees subsidised Dasain-Tihar holidays as an incentive.
One of many such groups this week is a Kathmandu company taking its 104 employees, divided in two groups, for a five nights and six days retreat to Vietnam.
“The vacation season has just started and we are pretty busy,” syas Banney Shrestha of Natraj Tours and Travels, which recently organised that tour, and a trip for 125 Nepali employees of a health care company in Bangkok.
Many travel agents, which used to specialise in organising sight-seeing and trekking for inbound foreign tourists in Nepal, now say more than half their business is from Nepalis spending holidays abroad, and the volume is growing. Many travel agencies reported up to 15% growth in outbound passengers from last year, while 50-year-old Natraj saw 30% growth.
Read also: Global Dasain
This Dasain, vegetate, Sonia Awale
In the last fiscal year, Nepali outbound travellers spent Rs80 billion against Rs67 billion spent by foreign tourists in the country over the same period. The travel industry expects this year to be even better than last year for both inbound and outbound tourism.
“People have started making use of their savings to explore and travel to new places in the region and beyond,” explains Shrestha.
One of the most popular destinations is Bangkok because of its combination of shopping, recreation and beaches. Cheap air fares offered by Nepal Airlines, Thai Airways and Thai Lion are a factor, although the need for Thai visas is a downer. Natraj says that more than half the inquiries by Nepalis on social media about spending their holidays abroad this season are about Thailand.
Singapore is the number 2 most popular destination because of its rich offerings for families, shopping and visa on arrival. With Indonesia now also offering visa on arrival for Nepalis, Bali has also become popular for its exotic Hindu culture and famous beaches.
Europe and the US were popular this summer, and many have booked autumn holidays in London over Dasain-Tihar. Nearly 40% of tickets to and from Kathmandu on Qatar Airways in August were to the UK, and 26% to the US. Students and families settled abroad often call their parents over on visit visas. Airlines which arrive full in Nepal for the trekking season offer discounted fares on their return flights, making tickets affordable for Nepalis.
Because of a direct seven hour flight, Istanbul has emerged as a popular destination and is in the bucket list of many Nepali tourists. Turkish culture and the Bosporous bridging Asia and Europe are the attractions. Nepalis have even discovered Cappadocia, the historical region in Anatolia, famous for hot air balloon rides.
Turkish now offers daily direct services to Istanbul, and being the only European airline serving Kathmandu offers no-visa entry for Nepalis travelling on to Europe or the United States wishing to spend a few days on their way out. Turkish has bookings from two Nepali tour groups of 20 passengers each for this Dasain period alone.
The other surprising destination is Russia, with Nepalis are still going there to see the World Cup stadiums. “Moscow is popular among Nepalis, and the chief attraction is Lenin’s mausoleum,” says Padam Kattel of Ace Travels, which is taking 200 customers there with stopovers in Dubai this Dasain. While a holiday in western Europe can cost more than Rs300,000, Russia is only half of that.
Along with Moscow, Ace Travels introduced Baku in Azerbaijan as an affordable new destination for Nepali holidaymakers last year when it handled over 1,500 outbound Nepali tourists to Russia and Central Asia.
There was a time that the only Nepalis on ocean cruise-liners were the Gurkha guards and housekeeping staff. More and more, Nepali passengers can also be seen on ships. The most popular holiday cruises are from Singapore to the Malacca Straits, the Mediterranean and the East China Sea. ZETS Holidays is the sales agent for Star Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, and it says there has been an exponential growth in Nepali passengers.
Read also: Samsung offers for Dasain
As for those who insist on spending Dasain-Tihar with families in Nepal, travel agencies are offering winter holidays in the Southern hemisphere: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and the Mediterranean .