Kathmandu, Jan 3 (EFE).- Nepal registered its lowest number of tourist arrivals in 44 years in 2021, receiving just over 150,000 foreign visitors, mainly due to the strict restrictions to prevent Covid-19 and resulting in a big blow to the economy.
Nepal received 150,962 visitors in 2021, the lowest figure since 1977, when it had registered 129,329 tourists, according to a report published on Monday by the tourism department.
“There was a hope that the industry would revive in 2021, (…) but it ended in disaster,” Nandini Lahe Thapa, spokesperson for the Nepal Tourism Board, told EFE.
The sharp drop is partly due to restrictions in the Himalayan nation, which was forced to close its borders to tourism in March after witnessing a second wave of infections which continued up to mid-September.
The figure is even lower than the 230,085 visitors the country received in 2020, already one of the worst years for local tourism in recent history, despite an ambitious campaign “Visit Nepal 2020,” which had been aimed at attracting at least two million tourists.
In 2019, the last year before the pandemic struck, a record 1.19 million foreigners had visited Nepal.
The 2021 arrivals included 64,673 Indians, accounting for 43 percent of the total footfall, apart from 22,853 tourists from the United States, 8,680 from the United Kingdom and 6,196 Chinese, the other major countries of origin for the tourists.
Thapa said that the local tourist sector should focus on regional markets such as India and Bangladesh to attract visitors.
However, hopes for a quick recovery are faint, and the sector is not expected to recover to pre-Covid levels for at least a couple of years.
“Based on the current trend and the new Omicron variant, return to pre-pandemic levels is likely only in 2024,” Ashok Pokharel, president of the Nepal Association of Tour Operators, told EFE.
Nepal is home to 8 of the world’s 14 tallest peaks, and spending by foreign mountaineers is a major source of foreign currency for the economy.
The travel and tourism business, which accounted for 8 percent of the country’s GDP and employed over a million people before the pandemic, has been the worst hit by the travel restrictions that were first imposed in March 2020. EFE