KATHMANDU, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- Nepal Environmental Treks and Expedition organized treks for six groups of European, South African and American tourists in early October, the first time since this spring for the company to bring in foreign visitors.
"The number of foreign tourists we welcomed this month is higher than what we received last spring," Nava Raj Dahal, the company's managing director, told Xinhua. "We are also receiving more inquiries from international travelers, though the number is still not overwhelming so far."
Still, promising signs are emerging from Nepal's tourism sector, an important foreign currency earner for the South Asian country that has been hit hard in two rounds of lockdown imposed to check the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, the Nepali government reopened the country to foreign travelers by removing quarantine requirements for those vaccinated, in hopes of reviving the tourism so as to lift employment and the economy.
A record-high 408 climbing permits were issued for foreign climbers aiming for Mt Qomolangma, the world's tallest peak at 8848.86 meters that straddles Nepal and China, in the spring.
The revival gathered pace in September, when almost everything was allowed to reopen. In late September, on-arrival visa service was resumed for foreigners for the first time since March 2020, and mandatory quarantine requirement was removed for vaccinated travelers.
The lift of lockdown in early September in the Kathmandu Valley and the on-arrival visa service were appealing in particular to foreign visitors, who had been long inquiring about when they could visit Nepal. "As a result, most of the trekking agencies have brought some groups of foreign tourists in this fall season," said Dahal.
According to Binayak Shah, first vice-president of Hotel Association Nepal, the reopening of on-arrival visas has created a favorable environment for foreign tourists to come.
"It is not that foreign tourists visit Nepal right after the reopening of the on-arrival visa facility, but we are receiving encouraging inquiries and we hope the situation will improve for the tourism sector in 2022," he said.
Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has been receiving encouraging reports from the sector as well.
"Most travel agencies are reporting an immense rise in inquiries, with many of them reporting more inquiries than in 2019 before the pandemic began in late 2019," said Dhananjay Regmi, NTB's chief executive officer. "If all the international flights from and to Nepal resume, it will not take much time for Nepal's tourism industry to recover."
With many countries still restricting foreign arrivals, Nepal's moves to the contrary have encouraged foreigners to visit Nepal, Regmi said.
And the number of foreigners visiting Nepal has been on the rise. According to Regmi, around 16,000 foreign tourists arrived in Nepal in September. "We're expecting the number to rise to 25,000 in October," he added.
Nepal relaxed the travel rules for foreigners as the number of new COVID-19 cases has been declining in recent months and more and more have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The country reported 527 new infections on Thursday, a sharp drop from 9,317 cases on May 11, according to the Ministry of Health and Population.
Meanwhile, 8.65 million of the 30 million population had been inoculated one jab and 6.86 million fully vaccinated by Thursday, the ministry said.
While open to foreign visitors, Nepal is still on the red list of some countries. Early this month, Britain removed Nepal from the list, allowing its citizens to visit the Himalayan country.
"The Nepali government needs to take proactive measures to remove the country from the red list of other countries for travel in the context that the vaccination drive against COVID-19 in Nepal has remained relatively better in South Asia and the number of coronavirus cases has also decreased sharply," said Shah.
With new infections dwindling lately, the NTB has also started to promote travel to Nepal, including posting promotional ads on social media and organizing travel marts in Nepal starting from December, noted Regmi.
"We're going to organize seven travel marts, one in each of the seven provinces in the country within a year. Representatives of foreign travel agencies will be invited to these marts, which provide opportunities for business deals between Nepal and foreign travel agencies," said Regmi.
Nepal's hotel entrepreneurs are making their own efforts to attract foreign visitors, including sending messages about all the facilities having been sterilized and the staff fully vaccinated, Shah said.
In his view, the government needs to organize a "mega event" in 2024 to promote tourism after necessary preparations in 2022 and 2023 so as to fully revive the industry. Enditem