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Nepal mustn’t miss the Indian tourist bus

The Indian market, accounting for 30 per cent of the total tourist arrivals to Nepal for many years, has now shrunk to 20 per cent.

HIKMAT SINGH AYER | Kathmandu |

Indian tourists usually go on vacation with their children during the summer break. Bengali tourists generally take their annual holidays during the Durga Puja festival. In India, the tourism market has a large share of domestic tourists travelling within the country. As per recent data, Indian domestic tourists made 2,321.98 million visits in the domestic tourism market in 2019. The number of tourist visits dropped to 611 million in 2020 due to Covid-19. These figures refer to internal visits to the states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttarakhand which lie close to Nepal’s border, hence they represent a tremendous potential source market at our doorstep.

Each of the Indian metropolitan cities has a population of between 10 and 30 million. In 2022, the population of Delhi exceeded 32 million. Many people from various parts of India visit New Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and nearby regions. In terms of foreign travel, an increasing number of Indians travel abroad. Indian outbound in 2019 totalled 27 million. Nepal has not been able to attract India’s burgeoning middle class in greater numbers. Not that Nepal has not been trying. It has been participating in all major tourism fairs such as OTM Mumbai, TTF, and South Asia’s Travel and Tourism Exchange (SATTE) Delhi.

In May, 20 tourism entrepreneurs led by the Nepal Tourism Board and Nepal Airlines Corporation participated in SATTE held in Greater Noida, India. The Nepal Tourism Board has been showing a good presence in India in partnership with private companies. From time to time, unique promotional campaigns have been conducted in different cities of India, such as Nepal: Next Door Fun Never Before, Let’s Go to Nepal Campaign, Let’s Go to Pokhara, Nepal Gateway to Kailash, Nepal Summer Campaign, Unleash Yourself Campaign Casino Package, and Pashupatinath and Muktinath Packages.

Despite these efforts, only 200,000 to 300,000 Indian tourists come by air and 300,000 to 400,000 by road. In comparison, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Dubai, which entered the Indian market after Nepal, have already made big leaps in attracting many tourists from the Indian market. Many European countries and Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Dubai have made their presence felt through their liaison offices and public relations representatives in various states of India, providing stiff competition to Nepal. These liaison offices are in constant touch with India-based tour operators and hoteliers to make arrangements to send Indian tourists to their destinations through attractive packages in collaboration with their country’s airlines, hotels, tour operators and travel agents.

Looking back at past events, it is worth mentioning that the then executive committee of the Nepal Tourism Board took the decision to open a liaison office in New Delhi in 2008. After following the entire procedure of seeking permission from the Reserve Bank of India, the Nepal Tourism Board requested the Nepal Embassy in New Delhi to do the follow-up in this process, but no reply has been received from the Indian central bank. The Nepal Tourism Board’s executive committee has, therefore, not been able to give high priority to opening a liaison office in Delhi.

At that time, the Indian government seemed to have taken the proposed liaison office as a financial transaction office. Later, the board’s executive committee also became indifferent to its justification. And even after all these years, we still haven’t been able to set up a liaison office in India. India is an important tourism source market for Nepal. The Indian market, accounting for 30 per cent of the total tourist arrivals to Nepal for many years, has now shrunk to 20 per cent. In order to maintain the old market and capture new segments within it, the Nepal tourism industry has to put together all its efforts in a planned way by dividing India into four market segments based on the population of the cities and tendency of the residents to go abroad.

Accordingly, Delhi, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Lucknow, Kanpur and Varanasi in North India; Siliguri, Kolkata, Ranchi and Patna in East India; Mumbai, Pune, Surat, Ahmedabad and Jaipur in West India; and Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi and Coimbatore in South India should be our targets of interest to carry out sales missions, road shows and publicity programmes. New possibilities have to be explored to rebrand the image of Nepal in the Indian markets; new technologies have to be disseminated, promotion of Nepali destinations should be on Indian electronic media, and various TV shows have to be promoted. For religious and spiritual tourism, we need to appeal to the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and the southern states to encourage their citizens to visit religious places like Pashupatinath, Muktinath, Barahakshetra and Janakpurdham in Nepal and also Kailash Manasarovar in China.

For youth-targeted adventure sports, the Nepali tourism industry needs to partner with the Nepal Tourism Board and Nepal Airlines to present various packages such as school and college educational tours, and treks to Everest base camp, Manang, Mustang, Rara and Khaptad. Nepal Rastra Bank should encourage payment by electronic transfer, Visa card and travel debit card for hotel, trekking and travel arrangements. Orientation programmes should be implemented immediately to educate the border guards and security personnel on the highways to provide a more pleasant and friendlier environment to visitors.

At the same time, the longawaited goal of opening a liaison office of the Nepal Tourism Board in New Delhi should be expedited to strengthen promotional programmes in India. The board’s Tourist Information Office and the Immigration Office must maintain a physical presence at significant entry points to facilitate the movement of tourists coming overland. India is experiencing remarkable economic growth, and more than 50 per cent of its population is below 25 years of age, and more than 65 per cent is below 35 years of age. This young generation with money and zeal tends to go out and explore the world. And Nepal as a next-door destination has so many things to offer to attract India’s unstoppable and untapped source market by land and air.