Nepal’s tourism has suffered a direct hit as a result of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Travel trade entrepreneurs say that they are receiving increasing numbers of cancellations from Japanese tourists following the twin disasters. The tourism industry has received more than 1,000 cancellations from Japan so far.
March, April and May are the most popular months for Japanese visitors in Nepal, and the cancellations during the peak season mean business will be hurt bad. Travel traders say Japanese tourists are among the highest spenders in Nepal and they stay over a week.
According to official tourism statistics, Japan is the sixth largest source of air tourists for Nepal after India, China, the US, the UK and France. Nepal hosted 23,272 Japanese tourists in 2010, among whom 20,458 came by air.
“The unexpected cancellation of tours has hit our business,” said Shibesh Shrestha, managing director of C&K Nepal Travels and Tours, whose main clients are Japanese tour groups.
According to him, his agency has received 250 cancellations for March alone. “Although there were few tourists coming from Osaka, there are more cancellations from Tokyo and Hokkaido. All the bookings from Sendai have been cancelled,” said Shrestha.
The cancellations from Japan are expected to affect Nepal’s target of welcoming one million tourists in 2011. The Nepal Tourism Year implementation committee has planned to increase Japanese arrivals by 20 percent. Nepal received 3,755 Japanese tourists in the first two months of 2011 compared to 3,528 in the same period last year.
Along with tour operators, hotels are also seeing cancellation of reservations by Japanese tourists. “We received cancellations of 300 room nights within a week,” said Bharat Joshi, director, sales and marketing at the Hotel Yak & Yeti. He said that all the hotels were receiving cancellations, and that 600 room nights were expected to be cancelled this season.
“Japanese tourists are major customers for hotels spending over US$ 90 per day on accommodation,” Joshi said. He added that cancellations from Japan were expected to result in a drop in the Yak & Yeti’s business by 5 percent.
The Everest Hotel has reported that about 10 percent of its bookings from Japan have been cancelled. The hotel said it could not say if cancellations might increase.
The Radisson Hotel said that cancellations of hotel bookings were likely to be high due to the national grief in Japan. “We have not had such massive cancellations, but there have been some cancellations,” said Abinav Rana, general manager of the hotel.
The Shangri-La Hotel in Kathmandu and the Shangri-La in Pokhara do not have bookings from Japanese guests for March, said general manager Raju Bikram Shah.
Japanese tourists were among the major visitors to Nepal till 2001. However, after the Maoist conflict escalated, arrivals from Japan decreased significantly. Following the peace accord in 2006, the number of Japanese visitors rebounded. In 2007, there were 21,989 Japanese arrivals.
The Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO) has projected a 40 percent drop in Japanese tourists this year. The association said that the season for Japanese tourists had started, and that a crisis at the beginning of the season would hurt Nepal’s travel trade industry, particularly trekking and tours.
“A Japanese tour group normally consists of 20 to 25 people, which now has fallen to nine to 10 people,” said NATO president Ashok Pokhrel.
The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) on Monday released figures for international visitor arrivals into Asia and the Pacific said that Japan was the second largest source market for Asia Pacific, behind China, and generated some 17.5 million arrivals to the region’s destinations (including Canada, Mexico, and the US) last year.