Record tourist numbers as Nepal emerges from civil war

Sat Jan 10, 2009 10:10pm EST
 
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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Less than three years after a long and bloody civil war ended, tourists are returning to Nepal and its spectacular mountain scenery in record numbers despite a global economic slowdown.

The government, led by former Maoist rebels who waged an insurgency against the monarchy for 10 years, has set an ambitious target of doubling visitor numbers to the Himalayan nation by 2011, a top tourism official said.

The Maoists signed a peace deal in 2006 and won a landmark election in April last year, after the end of a civil war that killed an estimated 13, 000 people. Tourism is a key source of income for Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries.

It brought in $230.6 million in 2007 and accounted for 4 percent of GDP, but there are concerns that the bulk of the money is going to tour operators and not those living in the poor, remote areas where tourists visit.

Tourist arrivals grew 4 percent last year from 526,000 in 2007, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) said, the highest number since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Mount Everest in 1953 and effectively launched the country's tourism industry. Prachanda Man Shrestha, the NTB chief, said the government has designated 2011 as "Nepal Tourism Year" and hoped to receive 1 million visitors on the back of the peace deal.

"It is challenging but achievable," Shrestha said. "Tourism is not a choice but compulsion for the economic development of Nepal."

EQUAL PAY: A STEEP MOUNTAIN?

There is also a perception the cash from tourism is mainly fattening the wallets of foreign travel operators in Kathmandu.   Continued...

 
<p>Tourists sightsee in Durbar Square at Patan, in Kathmandu, January 8, 2009. REUTERS/Shruti Shrestha</p>