New Delhi, Sep 26 (IANS) Nepal has adopted an aggressive campaign this year to woo Indian tourists in larger numbers for weekend getaways and short holidays, after a dip in the wake of Maoist threats and political instability.
The new tagline of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) 'Naturally Nepal - Once is not enough' may well remind one of Jacqueline Susann's bestseller but it is expected to denote that it has more to offer than just casinos, shopping and Pashupatinath temple, said Nandini Lahe-Thapa, director tourism marketing and promotion of NTB.
'Nepal is no longer a rocky ride. After a 2.6 percent dip in 2005, we are back on the upswing having recorded a 10 percent increase in tourist arrivals by air between January and August. We are hopeful of ending the year with 20 percent growth,' Lahe-Thapa told IANS.
Most of the flights to Kathmandu and five star hotels in Nepal are fully booked, she said.
At the peak of tourism inflow, Nepal received around 500,000 tourists in 1998 with Indians accounting for over one-third arrivals. The traffic last year dipped to around 375,000 arrivals, with Indians accounting for around 196,000.
Nepal does not take into account the flow of people across the porous border with India with busloads of arrivals. The official estimate is that around 18 percent of people arriving by road are tourists while the remaining engage in various business activities.
In the capital for a road show to woo travel fraternity, Lahe-Thapa said this year the NTB has doubled the print media campaign for India to Rs.40 million out of a total budget of Rs.100 million for multi-media campaign.
'Indian market is again looking at us favourably. If current hotel bookings and heavy bookings for air tickets is any indication, we are set to do very well over the next few months,' said Lahe-Thapa.
Being within easy reach and with no visa requirement, Nepal has been a favoured getaway destination for Indians, particularly those keen on shopping or trying their luck in casinos.
In fact, 65 percent of traffic to Kathmandu by air is from Delhi. This has led to NTB planning its first overseas office here by January.
The NTB, which is possibly the only privately funded organisation of its kind in the region, is also typing up with tourism fraternity in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to increase the tourist inflow.
As a result of its tie-up with SriLankan Airlines, so far this year Nepal has received 24,000 tourists from Sri Lanka, with most opting to visit Lumbini Gardens, the birth place of Gautama Buddha.
Flow of Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar via Nepal has also witnessed an increase this year.
'We are also noticing a change in the profile of tourists from India with many youngsters arriving for adventure tourism from bungee jumping to trekking, paragliding and canoeing. Which goes to show that Maoists are no longer being looked at as a threat,' she said.
With tourism having bounced back, Lahe-Thapa said investments are expected to flow back into hotels and other infrastructure with government also planning to improve roads.
The upbeat mood is being reflected in refurbishing and expansion work being undertaken by hotels.