Tuesday, 25 April 2017

NEPAL: Tourism Booming Again, Hotel Occupancy At 60%

The country’s hotel occupancy rate has improved in the spring season (March to May) for the first time after the earthquake of April 25, 2015, along with the rise in the inflow of tourists.Tourist standard hotels have been operating at 60 per cent occupancy rate, according to Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), an umbrella body of tourist standard hotels in the country.

Hoteliers have said that if the inflow of tourists is realised as per the bookings for the coming autumn season, which is considered the main tourist season, tourist arrivals will surely mark a record this year. A high volume of tourist inflow was witnessed in 2012 when a total of 803,000 travellers visited Nepal.Chinese and Indian tourists contribute a significant share in the total number of tourists coming to Nepal.

According to Binayak Shah, secretary general of HAN, the number of religious tourists from South India may increase if Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) effectively promotes the country there. “Many South Indian families want to visit Nepal but they still have some misgivings on anti-Indian feelings in Nepal, which needs to be dispelled to attract more tourists,” he said.

Expanded flight network of Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) to India has made airfare relatively cheaper than earlier as international airlines operating on Kathmandu-Delhi, Kathmandu-Mumbai and other sectors have started competing on rates with NAC.

“The national flag carrier’s immediate plan to expand to Guangzhou of China is also expected to increase competition regarding fares with Chinese airline companies and provide relatively cheaper and reliable service for Chinese tourists in the days to come,” Shah opined. “Congestion in the country’s only international airport and the high airfare are the major bottlenecks for bringing more tourists in the country.”

Infrastructure bottlenecks should be addressed at the earliest to materialise the country’s vision to bring two million tourists annually by 2020. The private sector has prepared itself towards that direction to accommodate two million tourists per year as global hotel chains are all set to come into operation, according to hoteliers.

Numerous training programmes for human resources to enhance quality of service have been initiated as well, as HAN has urged the hotels within its network to improve the quality of food, according to Shah.

Hoteliers have urged the government to expedite infrastructure development, which is critical to translate the vision into action. “We will not be able to translate the vision into action until and unless the government prepares public infrastructure facilities like airports, among others, which will in turn help to easily handle the increased tourist flow,” Shah said.

However, infrastructure development has been moving at a very slow pace. Expansion of Tribhuvan International Airport, the country’s only international airport, which was expected to have been completed by 2018 has been extended to 2021 due to the re-tender process that was initiated recently. Private sector entrepreneurs have criticised the government for not being serious about public infrastructure to achieve the target of attracting two million tourists annually.

Nepal Airlines has taken the top spot in international passenger carriage for the first time in years, flying 275,701 travellers during the first nine months of 2016.

According to Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), the national flag carrier bumped Qatar Airways down to second place with a massive 74.63 percent growth in passenger carriage.

Nepal Airlines began flying high after inducting two new Airbus A320 aircraft into its fleet last year. It resumed flights to Dubai, Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi soon after acquiring the new jets, and now serves eight international destinations. The carrier has been able to boost its market share on international routes to 11 percent.

“NAC’s market share will more than double this year after it inducts its first wide-body Airbus A330-200 jet into its fleet,” said Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary of the Tourism Ministry and a board member of NAC.

Meanwhile, international airline passenger traffic through TIA increased 5.51 percent in the first nine months of 2016. According to TIA, the 28 international airlines serving Kathmandu flew 2.50 million passengers between January and September last year.

International air passenger traffic through TIA had dropped for the first time in 13 years as travellers stayed away due to the 2015 earthquake and a jet fuel shortage caused by an Indian trade embargo.

Airline-wise, Qatar Airways slipped to second position in terms of passenger carriage in the first nine months of 2016. Doha-based Qatar Airways flew 258,884 passengers during the period January-September last year, up 3.69 percent.

As the winter season has almost come to an end this year, the influx of foreign tourists has increased in the Everest region.

The inflow, which was almost nil in the mid of winter, is getting thicker in Khumbu region from the mid-February.The number of tourists coming from different parts of the world to view and enjoy panoramic landscape of the Himalayan range including the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, has been increasing day by day.

According to Namche-based trader Dorji Sherpa, the movement of the tourists has started for the season spanning from mid-February to mid-June.

With the gradual rise in temperature, at least 100 new tourists have been flocking to the area, informed the Tourism Police Office, Lukla.

The number of flights at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport have increased due to the increasing inflow of the tourists, said Lukla-based Civil Aviation Authority.

Similarly, due to the increase in number of tourists, staff at the tourist entrance gate of Sagarmatha National Park, Jorsalle, have been much engaged. Tourists entering the region must entry their names at the entrance gate.

Meanwhile, traders of different parts of the district have also reached Lukla with the increasing flow of tourists.

Low-cost carrier Air Arabia secured the third spot, posting a strong 24.62 percent growth. It flew 252,797 passengers.

Indian carrier Jet Airways slipped to the fourth spot, down 1.56 percent. The carrier flew 233,759 passengers in the period January-September 2016.

No-frills carrier Fly Dubai posted a 15.82 percent growth with 227,755 passengers. Likewise, Oman Air saw the strongest passenger growth of 20.70 percent in the review period. It flew 134,932 passengers.

India’s flag carrier Indian Airlines slipped to the seventh spot with the number of passengers dropping 17.59 percent to 134,757. Malaysian-based low-cost carrier Air AsiaX saw its passenger numbers growth by 1.52 percent to 125,645.

Thai Airways saw its passenger growth jump by a whopping 30.53 percent to 122,487 in the first nine months of 2016. Etihad Airways saw its passenger numbers drop 15.28 percent to 102,542. Start-up Nepali carrier Himalaya Airlines carried 17,604 passengers in the first nine months last year.

Travel & Leisure magazine has featured Meghauli Serai, a Taj Safaris lodge as one of the best new hotels of 2017.

Meghauli Serai is a part of CG Hotels & Resorts - a hospitality portfolio arm of Chaudhary Group (CG).

Travel & Leisure has showcased some 44 hotels and resorts around the globe in its annual 2017 'ItList' as the Best New Hotels. The US-based magazine is a globally renowned publication on luxury hospitality travel and tourism.

"This year, the competition was fiercer than ever," the magazine writes. "The 44 hotels and resorts are making waves for different reasons - some for killer design, others for culinary bona fides or an unbeatable location - but all are inspiring the rest of the hospitality world to take note."

The 2017 'Best Hotels in the World' Its List covers 44 hotels and resorts in 31 countries on six continents.

"We are truly humbled by this amazing recognition which has put Nepal and CG on the global map for providing world-class hospitality experiences,” said Executive Director of Chaudhary Group and MD of CG Hotels and Resorts Rahul Chaudhary. "CG Hotels & Resort's hospitality portfolio consists of some of the most iconic properties globally in destinations such as the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Dubai, the Philippines, China, Indonesia and New York to name a few," he said, adding that the company is proud of its partnership with Taj and is confident that Meghauli Serai's feature in Travel & Leisure will result in the influx of high-end tourism into Nepal. "This is the 5th high-end lodge within our portfolio under Taj Safaris in India and Nepal."

Located next to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chitwan National Park, Meghauli Serai offers the visitors an opportunity to experience rich diversity of wildlife and vegetation. The park is especially renowned for its protection of one-horned rhinos, Royal Bengal tiger and Gharial crocodiles.

Nepal’s tourism experienced a dramatic turnaround last year after being hit by the twin disasters of a devastating earthquake and crippling trade embargo in 2015.

Foreign tourist arrivals to Nepal jumped 39.71 percent to 753,002 in 2016, boosted by robust visitor growth from India, China, the US, the UK and Sri Lanka, according to the statistics of the Department of Immigration.

However, 2016 arrivals are still 4.69 percent down from 2014 when the country welcomed 790,118 foreign visitors. The tourism boom is expected to continue in 2017 and remains a major growth driver for the economy even as the industry sees low overseas promotional activities.

October, November and December have been the most productive months for the industry, accounting for nearly one-third of total arrivals.

“It’s a dramatic growth. The industry is returning rapidly to its pre-earthquake growth level,” said Kedar Neupane, director general of the Department of Immigration. “The tourism boom is expected to continue in 2017 given a level of promotion by Nepal in the major source markets.”

He said that if the government, Nepal Tourism Board and private sector conducted aggressive promotional activities, this year could be an extraordinary year. “We can expect 1 million tourists in 2017 considering the current environment.”

Neupane said that Nepal could see a boom in Chinese arrivals this year following the move by the Chinese government to encourage travel to the country. China has announced Nepal Tourism Promotion Year 2017 in a bid to encourage its citizens to visit the Himalayan republic, according to the Nepal Embassy in Beijing.

“The industry carried out massive marketing activities in major source markets after the earthquakes, leading to a massive recovery,” said tourism entrepreneur Basant Raj Mishra. “The arrival of foreign volunteers as well as conferences held by I/NGOs in Nepal last year propelled growth.”

Suman Pandey, chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Nepal Chapter, said that 2017 looked promising; but the crumbling Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), Nepal’s only international aerial gateway, could be a major setback.

“The hospitality industry in Nepal can accommodate more than 3 million tourists, but the airport is already choked with capacity constraints even though arrivals are way short of the one million mark,” he said.

TIA is currently served by 28 international carriers, and it has announced that it cannot accommodate more flights. “What does this statement mean? Of course, Nepal has become an attractive holiday destination for travellers, but TIA will remain the main obstacle to the growth of the industry.”

Nepal received a lot of media exposure following the earthquake which has aroused tremendous interest among potential travelers.

The world’s leading travel guide Lonely Planet has named Nepal the world’s ‘best value destination’ for 2017. Likewise, Nepal’s Langtang region has been featured in The New York Times ‘52 places to go in 2017’ list.

Nepal has also appeared in the January travel issue of chinadaily.com.cn. “Nepal remains a fabulous choice for budget-conscious travelers, whether it’s the country’s world famous trekking routes or the wildlife in the southern region. Travel costs per day are as low as $50 on average,” it said.

A breakdown of arrivals by market shows Indian travellers at the top of the list. Arrivals from the southern neighbour reached 118,249 last year, up 57.40 percent. Chinese tourist arrivals jumped 55.26 percent to 104,005. Travel trade entrepreneurs said that Chinese arrivals did not increase as expected last year as the key entry point,

Tatopani Customs in Sindhupalchok, was closed after the earthquake. However, Rasuwagadhi has emerged as an important surface route with 23,452 Chinese visitors entering the country through this point last year.

Meanwhile, visitors from the US, Sri Lanka and the UK jumped 25.67 percent, 29.64 percent and 55.71 percent respectively.

Nepal has been placed on the list of the top 10 places that deserve more travellers by the National Geographic.

The UK-based popular travel publication in its June issue has placed Nepal on the top 3 spots among the round up of 10 places.Although Kathmandu—and Nepal—have long attracted adventurous travellers, the country’s April 2015 earthquake, which killed 8,000 and wrought about $10 billion (half of Nepal’s GDP) in damages, decimated the country’s tourism industry, it writes.

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, a UNESCO-listed compound of palaces dating back as far as the tenth century, was partially destroyed, as was another of Kathmandu’s iconic structures: the 19th-century Dharahara tower.

A year later, however, Nepal’s situation is, if not what it once was, then nonetheless stable. And although several of Kathmandu’s most famous tourist structures have been damaged or destroyed by the earthquake, others—like the fifth-century Pashupatinath Temple and the relic-containing stupa of Boudhanath, now undergoing restorations—remain largely, if not entirely, intact, it said.

Power may not be a constant nor are paved roads, but for travellers willing to sacrifice a degree of comfort for a sense of adventure, Nepal’s draw remains, it said. “Nepal’s economy, deeply reliant on the tourism trade, is more in need than ever of visitors.

While the earthquake has damaged Nepal’s man-made structures, its mountain trails—including the legendary Annapurna Circuit through the snow-capped shadow of the Himalaya—remain accessible.”Only two of Nepal’s 35 listed trails have been rerouted as a result of earthquake damage, and as early as last summer, all of the Annapurna trail’s bridges were successfully tested for safety.

If you’re not up to a seven-day trek in the Himalayan wilderness, Kathmandu has a range of more sedate activities on offer. The tradition of the Himalayan singing bowls—bell-like structures historically rung before, during, or after periods of Buddhist meditation—has a long history in Nepal. Cultural centres like the Kathmandu Centre of Healing offer three-day intensive bowl workshops (from $300) where you can learn the art of playing the bowls to make them “sing.”

Last year, the UK-based magazine on its ‘Cool List' for 2016 had placed Nepal in the sixth spots among 16 cool locations.

Chandragiri Hills on officially opened the Chandragiri Cable Car service to the general public amid a Vedic ceremony.

Locals of Chandragiri Municipality in Kathmandu and Chitlang and Fakhel VDCs in Makwanpur were among the invitees to the ceremony conducted by the company’s directors and promoters.A total of 10,641 visitors from Chandragiri, Chitlang and Fakhel and other guests enjoyed the free ride on the Chandragiri Cable Car and visited the temple on the hilltop.A two-way trip on the cable car from Thankot to the top of Chandragiri Hill costs Rs700.

More than 10,000 passengers rode the cable car on inauguration day, Chandragiri Hills said in a statement, adding that the company expected to carry 10,000 passengers daily in the days to come.

Singer and tourist guide Ensu Rai has come up with a documentary ‘Nepal is safe for Tourism Forever’.
The documentary spanning three minutes and 11 seconds has shots of ascents to the world’s highest summit Mount Everest and vista of Himalayas.

Six months after the devastating earthquake, Rai had also organised a live musical concert at the altitude of 6,471 metres to give a message that Nepal is safe for tourism.The documentary has also depicted the panorama of Pattale Mountain (3,200 metres) located between Solukhumbu and Okhaldhunga. Pattale Mountain has the potential to be a new tourism destination, said singer Rai.

The documentary has been edited by Anil Kumar Maharjan and presented by Mountaineering Culture Expedition Nepal.

One-way domestic airfares will go down by up to Rs 384 with effect from tomorrow, as the Airline Operators Association of Nepal (AOAN) has reduced fuel surcharge following reduction in price of aviation turbine fuel.

Nepal Oil Corporation, the sole supplier of petroleum products in the country, slashed the price of aviation fuel by Rs 10 per litre to Rs 99 on Saturday.

The AOAN, the umbrella body of domestic airlines, revises fuel surcharge on domestic air routes whenever the price of aviation fuel increases or decreases by Rs four per litre.

With the latest fall in aviation fuel price, the AOAN has also revised fuel surcharge for all the domestic routes. With this, one-way airfare on Kathmandu–Pokhara route, for instance, will go down by at least Rs 164. Similarly, airfare on Kathmandu-Biratnagar route will come down by at least Rs 231, while one-way air tickets for Kathmandu-Dhangadi will cost at least Rs 384 cheaper.

“The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, the aviation sector regulator, has approved the latest revision made to fuel charge,” the AOAN said.

In a bid to promote Nepal’s tourism in the aftermath of the earthquakes that struck the country last year, a hiking event is being organised in Hong Kong.

The 13 km hike being organised on July 24 as part of with the theme ‘Hike for Nepal’ at the initiative of Nepalis residing in Hong Kong.

Miteri Society Hong Kong is organising the event.

Noted mountaineer Phurba Tenjing Sherpa, who has successfully scaled Mt Everest ten times, will join the event, which aims to promote the country’s tourism.

Phurba holds the world record as the youngest climber to Mt Everest. Recently, he reached atop the world’s tallest peak with the flag of the ‘We Will Rise Campaign’.

On the sidelines of event, Sherpa will also hold interaction with foreign mountaineers on the success stories of mountaineers.

The hike will begin from Central Hong Kong and pass through Wan Chai Gap and Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park before concluding at Repulse Bay. Foreign mountaineers will also join the hike, according to society chair Tulasi Gurung.

The organisers hope this would be the biggest international event meant for promoting tourism in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

Besides, Thaneshwor Guragai, who holds Guinness Records in 12 different genres, will also participate in the hike, said the organisers. ‘“The ‘We Will Rise Campaign’, under which the event is being held, is gaining popularity worldwide as it has the support of Nepali sisters and brothers residing worldwide,” said the organisers of the event.

Himalaya Airlines (H9), a Nepal-China joint venture airline, is all set to operate daily direct flights to Doha, Qatar from July 11.

Issuing a press statement on Thursday, the airlines company said (that) it has decided to launch daily flights to the capital Doha following the increasing demands of the passengers to the destination.

Commenting on this daily direct flight, Vijay Shrestha, Vice President of the company, said, “Offering a daily direct service to Doha, Qatar is an indication that we would like to prioritize our service in this route. The daily service will allow Himalaya Airlines to offer its services to a larger base of our passengers’ society, mainly the Nepalese living and working in Qatar.”

Scheduled flight effective from July 11, 2016
- Depart Kathmandu H9555 at 2300 hrs, arrive Doha at 0130 hrs
- Depart Doha H9556 at 0230 hrs, arrive Kathmandu at 1015 hrs following day

The airline will depart from Kathmandu at 2300 hours (local time) and land at 0130 hours (local time) in Doha. Similarly, the return flight will depart at 0230 hours from Doha and land in Kathmandu at 1015 hours the next day.

The aircraft has 150 economy and 8 business class seats.

The airline’s new Airbus 320-214 is currently flying to Doha thrice a week: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays since May 31, 2016 marking it as the first scheduled destination of the Airlines.

Himalaya Airlines, a full-service premium carrier, established in August 2014, started its scheduled flight operations from May 31 2016 flying directly to Doha, Qatar. The airline has planned services to more destinations including Delhi, China, Colombo, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Dammam in the near future.

Domestic airlines have urged the government to declare Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport a tax-free zone to boost the flagging aviation industry when it amends Aviation Policy 2006. The Aviation Policy comes up for its second five-year review this year.

The government has been charging unnecessary import duty on aircraft spare parts and other components although the Aviation Policy talks about tax waivers, complained airline representatives while speaking at an interaction organized by the Tourism Ministry to include inputs from stakeholders in the planned amendment to the policy.

According to airlines, they have been paying hefty amounts in VAT on the import of spare parts. The government charges 1 percent tax on purchased or leased aircraft. Spare parts are charged VAT ranging from 13 to 40 percent.

In addition, the government charges 10 percent as aircraft lease tax. Likewise, carriers have to pay 15 percent of the total cost of sending aircraft crews for training abroad as Tax Deducted at Source (TDS).

The unnecessary tax burden has been affecting the growth of the airline industry in Nepal, they said. For example, Buddha Air has constructed a state-of-the-art closed door hangar facility to provide maintenance facilities for its aircraft as well as those from outside the country.

Recently, it signed an agreement with Dhaka-based Novoair to provide maintenance services for its ATR aircraft. “But after one maintenance service, the airline said that it would not be able to come again to Nepal due to the high tax imposed on aircraft maintenance,” said airline officials, adding that Novoair went to Singapore. “It also lost a proposed aircraft maintenance agreement with Bhutan-based Druk Air due to tax issues,” they said.

“None of the airports in Asia imposes customs duty on equipment used inside the airport,” said Manoj Karki, general secretary of the Airlines Operators Association of Nepal (AOAN). “But it happens in Nepal.” He said that the tax burden is transferred to the passengers that make flying expensive in Nepal. “The government should seriously consider these issues.”

Meanwhile, the AOAN has asked the government to clarify the dual monitoring system in the aviation industry involving the Tourism Ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan). “It’s not rational for the ministry to play the role of a monitoring body,” said Karki.

Likewise, the AOAN has asked the government to provide a special discount on income tax for new national and international airlines.

The association said in its draft wish list that the government should provide 100 percent income tax exemption for at least five years and 50 percent exemption for three years for new airlines.

It has also urged the government to establish refueling facilities at other airports, review airfares every two years, establish a separate air safety mechanism, provide special subsidies to encourage airlines to operate in remote sectors and give the airline industry recognition as a national priority industry.

“The existing policy has incorporated all the issues to address the country’s aviation industry, but it has never been implemented,” said Caan Director General Sanjiv Gautam.

“So the question is not about Nepal’s weak aviation policy but its implementation. However, as per the need of the time and changing global aviation and technology, it should be given a periodic review,” he added.

Pokhrel says air transport essential in Karnali
KATHMANDU: Tourism Minister Ananda Prasad Pokhrel said on Friday that he was distressed about his own decision to exhibit an authoritarian streak by banning passenger flights by single-engine aircraft.

Last March, a minister-level meeting slapped a ban on the registration of new single-engine aircraft following the crash landing of an Air Kasthamandap P-750 XSTOL on February 26 in which its two pilots were killed.

The government also said that single-engine planes would not be allowed to carry passengers. Subsequently, in May, the Supreme Court stayed the government’s decision. “When I visited some areas in remote Karnali, I realized that remote people need air transport regardless of whether it is provided by a single-engine or twin-engine aircraft,” he said at an interaction here on Friday. “In fact, the people’s purchasing power has increased and they can afford to fly. Hence, the aviation industry in Nepal has the potential to grow tremendously.”

The number of foreign tourists visiting the regional museum at Nayabazaar of Pokhara, Kaski, has dropped remarkably in the last fiscal compared to the year before that.

s many as 5,920 foreigners visited the museum in the fiscal 2014/15 while the number stood at 2,469 in 2015/2016, less than 50 per cent.

The revenue of the museum also dropped by more than 50 per cent with the decline in number of visitors.

Revenue collection in the last fiscal was Rs 249,000 while the revenue a year before that was more than Rs 500,000, said sources.

The museum runs under the Department of Archaeology and contains costumes representing folk culture and tradition, items that reflect concrete and abstract culture besides various antiques on display.

Acting museum officer Kabindra Poudel said they were witnessing decline in the number of visitors after last year’s devastating earthquake.

“However, there has been a slight increase in the number of Indian tourists in the last two months,” he said.

A separate Mustang Gallery was also established with the joint effort of Khinga and Garabajong Nepal and German Archaeological Exploration team in 1998.

“The items kept in the gallery are 500 to 1,500 years old. Various china items, metal weapons and wooden items used by locals are also on display,” he claimed.

Various other items excavated from the villages of Mustang have also been kept in the Department of Archaeology in Kathmandu and the regional museum in Kapilvastu for people to see and recall the cultural as well as traditional history of Mustang, said Poudel.
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