Up in the Air : Nepal’s Air Travel Numbers on the Rise

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Up in the Air :  Nepal’s Air Travel Numbers on the Rise

The number of travellers entering Nepal via the aerial route is on a steady upswing. 
Nepal is home to high peaks, cultural heritage sites, wildlife reserves and breathtaking landscapes. This great diversity has been a driving force in terms of attracting tourists from all around the globe. 
Owing to those factors, various online travel advisors including Lonely Planet have listed Nepal as one of the major destinations for global travellers. The inflow of tourists is on the ascendancy and has increased by 25 percent in 2017 in correspondence to 2016. As per the latest report published by the Nepal Tourism Board in August this year, the number of arrivals has grown further by 18.2 percent compared to last year.
179,641 individuals from various nations had entered Nepal via road in 2017. Out of the total number, only 23,656 travellers visited Nepal via the Chinese border whereas 155,985 foreigners from various nations entered Nepal via India during the period. In 2016, Nepal witnessed a total inflow of 180,439 tourists via land. Though the country witnessed a decline in tourist arrivals via land, the number of incoming travellers by air increased significantly. The number of incoming air passengers increased by 32.8 percent in 2017. 760,577 foreigners landed in Nepal in 2017, a sharp rise from the 572,563 in 2016. The number of air travellers has grown further during the first nine months of this year.
According to Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO of Nepal Tourism Board, promotion of Nepal’s tourism prospects in numerous Travel Marts including the World Travel Mart in London has led to an increase in the number of international air passengers to Nepal. Increase in the operational hours of the country’s sole international airport, Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), from 16 to 21 hours also has aided the growth. Nepal Airlines, Himalaya Airlines and Buddha Air are the only international airline operators belonging to Nepal. There are 27 international carriers from different nations that arrive in Kathmandu to connect Nepal with the rest of the world. The data of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) reveals the growth of air travel.
TIA in its annual air passenger report has mentioned that Jet Airways, an Indian private commercial airline, recorded the highest passenger flow in 2017. The airlines conducted 3645 flights and connected Delhi thrice a day and Mumbai twice a day on a regular basis with Kathmandu servicing 469,301 passengers in 2017. Likewise, Nepal Airlines conducted 3082 flights in total and served 388,329 passengers over the course of 2017. Further, Qatar Airways conducted 2436 flights in a year and served 307,923 passengers.
Tanay Raghuraj, country manager of Jet Airways for Nepal says an increase in religious tourism such as pilgrims visiting Kailash Mansarovar and Lumbini has positively influenced tourist arrivals.
He informs, “Jet Airways has consolidated its position between India and the Himalayan kingdom in a phased manner and has remained relevant as a result of its differentiated service model and superior connectivity over its hubs - Mumbai and Delhi. The airline is the carrier of choice for business travellers and leisure seekers.  Our famed in-flight products and services, delectable in-flight meals, endless hours of in-flight entertainment for guests of all ages, choice of fares suiting all budgets, and superior cabin comfort, have established the airline as a favourite brand for customers on this route”. Raghuraj adds, “Jet Airways’ Boeing 737 fleet is being refreshed with the introduction of the state-of-the-art, fuel-efficient Boeing 737MAX. The airline reviews its network periodically and deploys assets on productive and economically efficient routes, enabling denser operations and increased frequencies thus providing greater connectivity over its hubs at Mumbai and Delhi.”
According to the latest data of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, Nepal has already observed an inflow of 3.1 million international air travellers during the first nine months of 2018. This is an increase of 12.51 percent from 2017. Aircraft movement has also increased by 2.79 percent to 24,926 flights during the period. 
However, there are caveats to consider for the Nepali tourism sector. For instance, the average length of stay for tourists has declined in the past year. The report of Nepal Tourism Board states that the average duration of stay in Nepal declined by 6 percent in 2017 compared to a year earlier. The average length of stay, which was 13.4 days in 2016, fell down to 12.6 in 2017. However, the contribution of tourism to the country’s revenue experienced an incline in 2017. It attributed USD 554,530,000 to the country’s revenue collection in 2016, which rose to USD 658,092,000 in 2017. Similarly, the average expenditure of a tourist per day has also risen. The expenditure was up by a dollar in 2017. The expenditure of a single tourist was observed to be USD 53 per day in 2016. The figure saw a 1.6 percent increase in 2017 and rose to USD 56 per day.
The Nepal government has been preparing to introduce a new tourism Act after almost 40 years. As the private sector has been demanding a new Act, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has started discussions on the tourism draft bill. The Tourism Act, which was enacted in 1978, was amended for the first time in 1985, and the second time in 1997. Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari said the country has already assumed a federal structure, so it is necessary for Nepal to adapt accordingly. While there have been misunderstandings over the collection of tourism tax, the stakeholders believe that the new Act will solve all these issues.

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