KATHMANDU – After posting hopeful growth of 26 and 12 percent in January and February, respectively, tourist arrivals via air in March fell into single digit growth. Arrivals in March grew by just 4.6 percent due to decline in arrivals from Europe.
Nepal Tourism Board (NTB)’s statistics show growth in tourist arrivals slowed down in the first three months (January-March) of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. According to NTB, arrivals grew by 12.5 percent in the first three months of 2011, while the growth during the same period last year was at 29.78 percent.
The Nepal Tourism Year has targeted 700,000 tourists and March is considered one of the prime tourist seasons. European arrivals posted a negative growth of 12.6 percent in March. Arrivals from the major European markets such as the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland registered negative growth of 27 percent, 16.1 percent, 20.3 percent, 43 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.
Travel trade entrepreneurs are surprised by the decline in European arrivals. “We are also surprised why the European market is declining,” said Ashok Pokharel, president of the Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO). He added that there was a need to think seriously about the downturn in the European market which is a source of high-end travellers. Some entrepreneurs attribute this decline to increase in international airfares catalysed by rising aviation fuel price. “The major reason behind the decline in the number of European tourists is a hike in airfares with the price of aviation fuel rising continuously in the global market,” said Rajendra Bajgai, general secretary of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN). “Coming to Nepal from Europe without direct connectivity is very expensive.”
Gandaki Tours and Travels Managing Director Ram Kazi Koney agrees with Bajgai. Koney said lack of direct flights between Nepal and Europe is one of the reasons behind the slump. “Moreover, promotion and marketing of Nepal Tourism Year-2011 has not been carried out in Europe, and this has also affected growth in the Europe segment,” Koney added.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned that fuel prices could increase and the global aviation industry will face a setback. In addition, Japan produces 3-4 percent of the global jet fuel supply, some of which is exported to Asia. Some of this refinery has been lost due to damages caused by the earthquake. This supply restriction could lead to higher jet fuel prices. “Airfares are rising already with numbers of international airlines increasing fuel surcharges because costs for fuel increased drastically,” said IATA.
India, which is the major market for Nepal, recorded a growth of 28 percent while Sri Lanka and Pakistan posted a growth of 38.3 percent and 6.8 percent respectively. However, arrivals from Bangladesh declined by 2.5 percent. The South Asian segment registered a growth of 22.5 percent. Arrivals from Asia other than South Asia also recorded a growth of 15.1 percent. Arrivals from China and Japan increased 15.2 percent and 9.6 percent respectively. Similarly, arrivals from South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore increased by 12.1 percent, 51.9 percent, 16.2 percent and 10.8 percent respectively. Tourist arrivals from the US increased 22.7 percent while arrivals from Australia, New Zealand and Canada saw a negative growth of 3.7 percent, 13.5 percent and 5.3 percent respectively.