The tourism sector in Nepal is witnessing a silver lining as the number of tourists continues to rise, offering hope for the nation’s struggling economy. According to the Nepal Tourism Board, over 400,000 tourists have flocked to the country in the first five months of 2023. These figures indicate a positive trend for the industry and provide a much-needed boost to the cash-strapped Himalayan nation.
The data released by the tourism board reveals that between January and May of this year, a total of 404,231 tourists visited Nepal. The government has set an ambitious target of attracting one million tourists within this year, with hopes that this influx will breathe life into the country’s economy.
Nepal’s tourism sector took a major hit due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a sharp decline in foreign visitors over the past few years. In 2019, just prior to the pandemic, Nepal had welcomed 420,446 foreign tourists during the first four months. However, in the following years, the number of arrivals plummeted. In 2020, only 220,682 tourists arrived, and this figure further dwindled to 55,447 in 2021. Despite these challenges, the recent surge in tourist arrivals and the recovering occupancy rates of hotels indicate a strong resurgence in the tourism industry.
American tourist Catherine, while exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Swayambhunath in Kathmandu, shared her experience, saying, “We’ve been here almost two and a half weeks, mainly in Kathmandu, but we have also visited Pharping, Bhaktapur, Patan, and Namo Buddha.” Catherine’s account highlights the diverse attractions that Nepal offers to visitors.
Tourist guide and researcher Pema Sherpa expressed his observations regarding the increase in tourist footfalls. He stated, “In the earlier days of the post-pandemic situation (2020-21), I saw fewer tourists and less footfall. But after that, I witnessed a significant surge in tourist numbers across all areas. When I went to the Annapurna Circuit, I noticed an abundance of tourists, especially from the United States and Europe.” Sherpa’s account underscores the growing interest in Nepal as a preferred destination for travelers.
Indian Tourists Lead the Way On Nepal’s Global Tourism Rebound
The World Tourism Organization has projected the recovery of Nepal’s tourism sector, with a predicted global tourism rebound of up to 95% by 2023. In May 2023, Nepal welcomed 36,575 Indian tourists by air, a significant increase compared to the 26,662 visitors during the same period in 2022. American tourists ranked second with 8,545 arrivals in May 2023, up from 7,274 in May 2022. Chinese tourists held the third position, with 4,667 visitors in May 2023, compared to just 388 in 2022. British tourists ranked fourth with 2,927 arrivals, and Australian tourists came in fifth with 2,184 visitors in May 2023.
Indian tourist Joyas Ahmed, who visited Kathmandu, expressed his reasons for choosing Nepal as a vacation destination, saying, “Because of the national park, that was my first priority so I can take my daughter to that place so that she can also see nature from the nature itself. After that, the peaks and views from Pokhara were my second priority.” Ahmed’s remarks highlight the natural beauty and unique experiences that draw tourists to Nepal.
Nepal, located between two giants, India and China, boasts rich cultural diversity. It is home to the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, and eight of the highest peaks on Earth, which captivate tourists. The iconic Swayambhunath stupa, a renowned Buddhist pilgrimage site, also attracts visitors from around the globe. The site’s spiritual significance, coupled with its location atop a hill, makes it a must-visit UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mount Everest Has Become Thriving Tourist Attraction Beyond Cultural Sites
The encouraging rise in tourist numbers is not limited to cultural and heritage sites. Nepal has also witnessed a surge in mountaineering activities, particularly on Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. The Department of Tourism reported that approximately 500 climbers, including Sherpas providing assistance, successfully scaled Mount Everest within a 15-day window this spring. Favorable weather conditions have contributed to the success of these expeditions, with the climbing season commencing on May 13 after the ropes were fixed by the icefall doctors.
Climbers from 65 different countries, including Nepal, obtained permits to scale the mountain, generating revenue of over Rs 660 million. In fact, 2023 has marked a record year in terms of the number of permits issued, reaching nearly 478 fee-paying individuals. This figure reflects a significant increase from the previous year, in which 409 permits were issued. The overcrowding of the summit during the previous year’s climbing season led to concerns and increased fatalities. However, with the number of permits issued for 2023 reduced to 325, safety remains a priority.
Foreign climbers are required to pay $11,000 for a permit to climb Mount Everest, with total expedition costs ranging from $40,000 to $90,000. These expenses can increase further if adverse weather conditions necessitate longer stays on the mountain. Typically, the climbing window for Mount Everest is limited to only two weeks per year.
Nepal’s unique geographical position, nestled between India and China, its rich cultural heritage, and its breathtaking natural landscapes continue to captivate tourists from around the world. As the tourism sector rebounds, it not only promises economic relief for Nepal but also offers visitors a chance to experience the unparalleled beauty and cultural treasures the country has to offer.