Nepal Trending As Best Tourist Destination In South Asia
Yuba Raj Guragain Om Prakash Devkota
Visit Nepal Year 2020 aims at bringing in two million tourists to the country. Recently launched policy and programme of the government affirms that Nepal is being established as the destination of international tourists with 33 per cent increase in arrivals. Nepal is trying to be the centre of attraction with improved facilities and enhanced international accesses focusing on rapid construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport and Pokhara International Airport as air connection is the most used means by tourists globally.
Nepal has international reputation in paragliding securing 2nd position after Japan in Asian Games 2018 held in Indonesia. Similarly, bungy jumping of Bhote-Koshi is supposed to be the first of its type in South Asia. In trekking, Great Himalayan Trail is a world renowned adventurous trekking trail from east to west of Nepal at an altitude of 5000 meters along with Annapurna circuit trek. In addition to the existing natural and cultural attractions of Nepal, the establishment of Nepal Mountain Academy under Tribhuvan University has enhanced not only the applied but also academic aspect of tourism in Nepal globally.
Nepal is the oldest state in South Asia that tends to be the best tourist destination in the region due to the availability of multiple natural and cultural attractions. Natural attractions such as mountaineering, paragliding, bungy jumping, rafting, adventure trekking, ultra-light flights, and jungle safari and cultural attractions such as the oldest country in South Asia, multiple historical and cultural heritages registered under the UNESCO enhance the comparative advantages of tourism in Nepal. Culturally, Nepal is supposed to be the centre of Hinduism and Buddhism. Similarly, hospitality and courtesy of Nepali people is a great asset for tourism development in Nepal, for friendly, open and non-xenophobic people attract more tourists than robust infrastructures alone.
The Maldives is supposed to be the best player in tourism development in South Asia receiving about 35 per cent of its GDP from this sector. Even if Maldives focused on tourism development from around 1970, about 20 years later than Nepal, the progress has been steady and smooth. Maldives has four international airports and waterways while Nepal has only one international airport till now. However, Maldives can entertain only water-based tourism which is the area of comparative advantage for Maldives while Nepal holds high potential in mountaineering, adventure and cultural and religious tourism. Maldives is water locked facilitating fast and easy access to the rest of the world whereas Nepal is land locked, yet seems to be in advantageous position in terms of resource for tourism.
Sri Lanka claims to be the representative of different cultural and natural diversities making food items available like in India, festivities like in Bangladesh and water-based entertainment like in Maldives. However, Sri Lanka cannot be compared with Nepal in terms of mountaineering and adventure tourism which is an outstanding and unique asset of Nepal in the region. As per Tourism Development Authority of Sri Lanka, 2017 report, it focused on tourism by establishing Ceylon Tourist Bureau in 1966 and it receives about 98 per cent of tourists from air connectivity. Tourists from India, China, UK, Germany and France make up the top five categories for this country while Sri Lankans themselves make the fifth largest inbound tourist category for Nepal as per National Tourism Statistics 2017 of Nepal.
Bhutan has been focusing on quality tourism; it requires the spending capacity of $250 per day per person. According to Bhutan Tourism Monitor 2018, it receives about 99 per cent of tourists by air. It receives majority of tourists from India, USA, Bangladesh, China, and Singapore. Tourists from China occupied fourth position in Bhutan in 2018 while China was second for Nepal. This tends to show that Chinese people tend to favour Nepal over Bhutan though both the countries border with China and both are landlocked. Bhutan is also known for happiness economics and 86 per cent of tourists that Bhutan receives come for cultural observations. Though Bhutan is Himalayan, it is not mountainous like Nepal. According to the report, about 32 per cent of tourists who visited this country also wanted to visit Nepal.
Afghanistan and Pakistan enjoy both natural and cultural attractions for tourism. Though Pakistan has the best international air connectivity after India in the region and it usually receives tourists from China, UK, India, USA and Saudi Arabia, this sector has a lower contribution to its GDP. Tourism sector in Afghanistan is managed by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it also has renowned international airports. However, for the time being, these countries face international security concerns to benefit much from tourism development. Similarly, Bangladesh claims to be a land of festivals and has numerous water-based tourism facilities. Historically, Bangladesh itself is a new country in the region, it has started to focus on tourism sector only lately. Nepal is in a better position in terms of country openness, security, receiving behaviour and hospitality of people, natural heritages and mountainous adventure opportunities.
India, the largest country in South Asia, bears both natural and cultural diversities to attract more tourists but this does not mean that Nepal lacks these diversities except access to the sea. But rather Nepal has the advantage of mountains and the highest peak along with birthplace of Lord Buddha and the adobe of God of gods in Hinduism. Moreover, Nepal also bears the assets of natural, climatic, cultural, faunal and floral diversity within a small geographical variation. This means a short stay but a vast understanding is possible in Nepal which is unlikely in India. According to India Tourism Statistics at a Glance 2018, India receives majority of tourists from Bangladesh (21.5 percent), USA, UK, Canada, and Australia. This means Bangladesh is the main country of origin for tourists in India followed by visitors from English speaking countries. For Nepal, Indian and Chinese tourists occupy the top positions. This also tends to show that the Chinese have less interest in India, unlike Bhutan. India and Bangladesh are two of the populous countries in the region; since they are neighbouring countries of Nepal and they tend to have more outbound tourists than inbound ones, Nepal may devise appropriate strategies to further benefit from them.
Finally, it seems that Nepal has vast potentials to excel in the area of tourism development in South Asia not only due to its internal assets but also due to its strategic centripetal geographical location among the populous and economically rising countries in the world. Attempts are being made to break the resource deficit situation but they are still inadequate. Thus, Nepal needs to give a big push to tourism and further make strategic choices along with improving infrastructures, connectivity and networks.
Guragain and Devkota are pursuing post-graduate studies in International Relations in Japan