९ बैशाख २०८१, आईतवार
Follow Us

Tourism entrepreneurs advocate free visa policy to boost tourist arrivals in Nepal

नेपालब्रिटेन डट कम्
७ चैत्र २०८०, बुधबार ०४:३८

KATHMANDU: Although the government aims to attract more foreign tourists, inadequate policies have hindered this effort. Stakeholders point out that while countries with high tourist inflow have simplified entry permits, Nepal’s restrictions to a few countries have stifled tourism growth.

Maniraj Lamichhane, director of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), believes that promoting a ‘free visa’ policy globally could significantly boost Nepal’s tourism. “The cost of a visa to enter Nepal isn’t prohibitive. However, offering a ‘free visa’ as a welcome gesture could positively impact tourist arrivals,” he stated.

Lamichhane emphasized, “Tourism thrives on service and hospitality. Making entry easier is a positive step for any tourist.”

In February, Singapore, significantly smaller than Nepal, attracted about 1.5 million foreign tourists. Following a visa exemption agreement with China, Singapore welcomed 327,000 Chinese tourists in just one month. Meanwhile, Nepal aims to attract 3.5 million tourists over the next decade, while Singapore expects to surpass 1.5 million tourists this year alone.

Bhabishwor Sharma, president of the Thamel Tourism Development Council, supports the visa exemption policy as a means to attract more tourists to Nepal. He suggests that combined with better international air connectivity, a free visa policy could eliminate the need for tourist campaigns.

Sharma reassured, “A free visa policy wouldn’t significantly impact the government financially.”

Pom Narayan Shrestha, chairman of the Pokhara Tourism Council, mentioned that offering free visas would enhance Nepal’s international image. “A government-promoted free visa policy would greatly benefit our tourist appeal, especially with Pokhara declared the tourist capital,” he said.

According to Prem Prasad Dahal, director and spokesperson for the Department of Immigration, Nepal currently offers free visas for 150 days to Chinese citizens and for 30 days to SAARC country citizens. The government retains the flexibility to extend free visa privileges to any country.

The government exceeded its tourist target last year, welcoming 1,014,882 visitors, some 15,000 more than expected. Moreover, the government has declared 2023 to 2031 as a tourism decade, aiming to attract 3.5 million tourists.

Despite Nepal’s vast tourism potential, ineffective and untimely policies have limited its success. Former tourism minister Sudan Kiranti’s effort to pass a visa exemption policy in parliament was unsuccessful, despite his initiative to ease visa requirements for citizens of some countries.

Nepal boasts 12 national parks, one wildlife reserve, and a hunting reserve, along with six conservation areas and 13 intermediate zones spanning from the Terai to the highlands. Additionally, eight of the world’s 14 mountains taller than 8,000 meters are situated in Nepal, alongside over 1,300 mountains exceeding 6,000 meters.

The country also holds significant potential in religious tourism, with Lumbini being the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Pashupati Temple for Hinduism, Bhaktapur renowned for its medieval art and architecture, and Lalitpur and Patan Durbar Square showcasing impressive woodwork and pagoda-style temples dedicated to various deities. These historic and grand sites have drawn global attention.

However, despite Nepal’s immense tourism potential, the industry has become ‘seasonal’ due to the lack of timely and effective policies and arrangements. Tourism entrepreneurs argue that the government should adopt a proactive approach to attract tourists from around the world. They believe that increasing tourist arrivals is feasible with the implementation of appropriate policies and arrangements.