The secretariat of Visit Nepal Year 2020 has signed a partnership agreement with Turkish Airlines to promote Nepal in the carrier’s international network as part of the effort to meet the target of 2 million tourists next year.
Turkish Airlines at present is the only carrier offering direct flights from Kathmandu to Europe and beyond from its new Istanbul hub. It has been operating flights to and from Kathmandu since 2013, and more than 90% of its passengers are bound for onward destinations in Europe and North America.
“This is the just a part of long journey that Turkish Airlines will has undertaken in promoting Nepal,” said the carrier’s Nepal manager Abdullah Tuncer Kecici. “This partnership will strengthen Turkish Airline’s promotion of Nepal through its destination advantage.”
Turkish Airlines has one of the largest international networks flying to 320 destinations in 126 countries. And 43 of the 60 capital cities it flies to are within a 3.5 hour flying distance from the carrier’s Istanbul hub. Passengers from these cities can connect to anywhere in the world, including Kathmandu, through Istanbul’s new airport.
“This is a strong partnership because at Visit Nepal Year we want to focus on airlines with direct flights to Europe for tourists,” said Suraj Vaidya of VNY2020, which has been engaged in promotion activities to prepare for the coming year with the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB).
Vaidya and Kecici signed a memorandum of understanding in Kathmandu on Friday detailing intensified promotion of Nepal at various travel trade fairs in the coming year. However, a deterrent for international carriers like Turkish is the high operating cost at Kathmandu airport, mainly because the aviation turbine fuel here is nearly twice as costly as in New Delhi or Bangkok.
Vaidya pointed out that a one-way flight on Korean Air from Seoul to New Delhi is about $600, but Seoul-Kathmandu is more than $1,000. This is because of high ground handling and landing charges, high cost of refuelling, and planes having to burn extra fuel during long holds for landing at Kathmandu due to congestion.
The price of jet fuel in Kathmandu is $1,000 per kL, almost double the cost in New Delhi and Dhaka ($525/kL) and much higher than in Beijing ($750/kL). Cost of ticketing, handling and landing fees are much more expensive in Kathmandu compared to other Asian airports. A widebody aircraft has to pay $6,000 for ticketing and ground handling per flight, which is also twice the amount in Delhi or Bangkok. Landing charges are similarly 30% higher in Kathmndu than in other South Asian airports.
“Kathmandu airport has seen some improvement, and we will see more upgrades in the coming weeks,” Vaidya said. “However, the concerned authorities have to look into the high operating costs so that Nepal is a competitive destination for international airlines to fly to.”
Other European carriers like Finnair have been scoping out Kathmandu flights, but they have been deterred by the European restrictions as well as high costs in Kathmandu, Vaidya added.
He also said the government had formed a task force to look into removing the two-tier fares for foreigners and Nepalis in domestic flights as a further incentive to bring tourists to Nepal in 2020.
Vaidya said there was also great potential for Turkish tourists to visit Nepal, as well as Nepalis vacationing in Turkey either as a destination or enroute from Kathmandu. He added that there is now a need for Nepal and Turkey to have embassies in each other’s countries to promote cultural and economic exchanges.