KATHMANDU, Nepal – Chinese tourists are fast becoming one of the highest-spending tourists in Nepal and are infusing fresh enthusiasm in the long-stagnant tourism industry even as the country is yet to fully tap the Chinese market.
Tourism entrepreneurs handling tourists from northern neighbor said Chinese tourists are spending an average of $80 a day in Nepal.
Their spending is almost double of what tourists in general spend in the country. Average daily spending by foreign visitors in Nepal is US$ 43, according to a Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) report in 2010.
“Chinese were budget tourists until a year ago, but not any more.
At present, they are spending an average $ 80 per day, which is double of what they used to spend till a year ago,” said Laxman Chand, tour manager of Sathi Nepal Travels and Tour, which is among the agencies that handle maximum number of Chinese tourists.
Yogendra Thapa, sales and marketing director at Hotel Barahi, Pokhara, which is one of the most preferred destinations for Chinese tourists in the city, echoed with Chand. Entrepreneurs attributed the rise in Chinese tourists spending mainly to change in the way they traveled and stayed in Nepal.
In the past, most of the Chinese were happy traveling around Kathmandu and Pokhara. This year, most of them chose to go on trekking and also are taking well-designed tour packages. “Of all activities, mountain flight remains an integral part of their package today,” said Chand.
Unlike other tourists, they spend generously during their trip, staying in good hotels, eating well and buying substantial volume of souvenir items.
What has left the tourism entrepreneurs elated is that the number of arrivals of Chinese tourists that are spending generously has continued to grow. Records of Immigration Department at Tribhuvan International Airport show that Nepal recorded a 150 percent growth in the number of Chinese tourist arrivals over the first nine months of 2011, which is being celebrated as Nepal Tourism Year (NTY).
“Now, not only more Chinese are visiting the country but also they come with higher purchasing capacity,” said Bharat Joshi, director at Yak and Yeti, who informed Republica that the hotel has so far seen a 20 percent growth in Chinese group bookings, compared to last year.
It is because of this good business potential that Hotel De L Annapurna even organized the August Moon Festival – one of the important events in the Chinese calendar. “Chinese tourists are fast becoming indispensable to all of us,” echoed Avik JB Singh, deputy sales and marketing manager with Hotel Annapurna.
This rise in Chinese tourist arrivals has not just ensured good business for tour operators and hoteliers. It has also incited flow of Chinese investment in Nepal, mainly in travel-trade industry. The data provided by the Department of Industry (DoI) shows 17 hotels, restaurants and pubs were opened with Chinese investments in the capital in 2009/10 alone.
“Perhaps, no other area has attracted as many Chinese investments as the travel-trade industry of late. This has helped to diversify services, enrich cuisines, raise quality and standard of hotels and restaurants and also made visitors feel cosy and at home even in a foreign land,” said Tejendra Shakya, president of Restaurants and Bar Association of Nepal (REBAN).
Interestingly, even as tourism entrepreneurs are doing all they can to lure Chinese tourists, officials concerned are unaware of what prevails in the market.
So much so that the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation and Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), which are supposed to promote tourism in the country and lavishly spend money in different markets to attract visitors, do not even know how much tourists from different countries spend in Nepal.
“We do not maintain such records because variables like taxi fare and informal billing make it difficult to retain authenticity of such data,” said Suman Ghimire at the research department of NTB. Hari Prasad Basyal, spokesperson at the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoTCA) too gave similar opinion, adding that the ministry has no idea of how much tourists from different countries spend in Nepal.
Even though the number of tourists visiting Nepal from the world´s second largest economy has continued to grow every year, tourism entrepreneurs complain that they are facing difficulty in actually bringing all the Chinese tourists that approach them.
“The primary difficulty arises out of our weak air link with China,” said Chand.
National flag carrier Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) that used to fly to Shanghai has stopped flying the Kathmandu-Shanghai-Kathmandu route. Whatever Chinese tourists are coming to Nepal are traveling mostly on China Southern, Air China and China Eastern that together offer around 3,500 seats per week.
The Chinese tourists even have to compete for seats with Nepali traders who travel in large number to Guangzhou, Chengdu and Shanghai.
Entering Nepal from other routes is not only costly and time consuming but also difficult because of unavailability of seats.
It is for this reason that despite a significant growth in arrivals, Chinese tourists constituted only 8 percent of total overseas tourists visiting the country till September 2011. “Clearly, unless we drastically improve connectivity, we will not be able to realize the benefits that China as tourist generating country offers,” said Chand.