Kathmandu, Feb 16 (PTI) Nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, Nepal for decades has been a magnet for adventurers, thrill-seekers and mountain lovers, but the landlocked country seeks to diversify its tourism through campaigns and art festivals and rekindle romance among Indian honeymooners.
In a bid to encourage tourism, boost employment and change perceptions, the Nepalese government launched ''Visit Nepal Year 2020'' (VNY 2020) campaign in January, nearly five years after a devastating earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people and left the country''s already weak infrastructure broken.
"As the country slowly started to recover from the earthquake by reconstructing the sites and restarting the passes, the Visit Nepal Year 2020 was launched to spurt its growth as tourism destination," a note on VNY 2020 says.
The campaign has been widely publicised by the government within the country and outside.
A total of 1.17 million tourists visited Nepal in 2019 via air and land routes, a slight decline from the previous year when 1.52 million people travelled to the country.
India was Nepal''s top source of tourists in 2019. According to the data compiled by the Department of Immigration (DoI), a total of 2,09,611 Indian tourists visited Nepal in 2019 while 1,69,543 Chinese visitors travelled to the Himalayan nation in the same year.
Under the campaign, various events and art festivals are being organised or facilitated so that it contributes 10 per cent of the total revenue of the country even beyond 2020.
"Through these festivals, many international artistes, filmmakers, photographers, writers, and curators will visit the country and also expose Nepal to their worldwide followers," the campaign said in a statement.
Many international art festivals like Kathmandu Triennale (International Arts Festival), Photo Kathmandu (International Photo Festival), Jazzmandu (International Jazz Music Festival) and KIMFF (International Mountain Film Festival) are being organised during the year.
"The boost in tourism would also mean more employment opportunities in the country and more investments for infrastructures," the statement said.
Campaign''s national coordinator Suraj Vaidya says their primary focus is to attract tourists from countries which have direct flight connectivity with Nepal like India and Malaysia.
"Malaysia is an important market for us as is Singapore," he said.
Stressing the importance of India in making the campaign a success, he said the two countries shared deep cultural and family ties, with open borders, cross border marriages and friendship.
"I am not so concerned about the numbers the VNY seeks to achieve. What I am concerned about is Nepal used to be a honeymoon destination for Indians. I need to bring the Indians back for honeymoon here," he said.
"It''s our loss that we have lost Indian sentiment to see Nepal as a tourist destination. Years of internal conflict has not helped Nepal project itself as tourist destination for India. So we need to somehow bring that back. That romance back. Indians don''t need a visa, (for spendings) they can use their card here. We speak the same language," Vaidya said.
He said the country also sought to change perception of it through the campaign.
"The Middle East people think Nepal just supplies cheap labours. They think why to go to a poor country. We need to change that perception. Nepal is much more. We want to promote our tourism in China also," Vaidya said.
He said the country was looking to give its visitors a "lifetime experience" by stirring their spirituality, and through adventure sports, pilgrimages, wildlife sanctuaries among others.
"Spiritually, we want to reintroduce Nepal back to people. Today a lot of people look very stressed. If you are in Delhi, you can break from work stress just by taking three days off on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We can give you that destination for a very quick break. Just refresh yourself. Spirituality is something we want to work on very much...," he said.
Besides help from the Indian people, Nepal also expects some "neighbourly support" at the government level.
"India has a system where their bureaucrats can take leave and travel in particular areas. So we want Nepal to come in that list. It''s a very small step to encourage this good neighbourly thing. If something could be done on this basis. Sometimes these are gestures that change a lot," Vaidya said.
"Also, when the Indian companies arrange their regional annual meeting/conferences outside, there should be tax rebate for them if they hold their meetings in Nepal. These are all political decisions," he said.
Besides all these activities, Nepal also allows foreigners to enjoy casino experience. Even though locals are banned from taking part in it, they can be employed there.
"Casino is a business for me. I don''t want be judgmental about it," Vaidya said.
Under the VNY 2020, an Indian company, which runs several casinos in Goa, opened a casino in Kathmandu on February 8.
"With The Visit Nepal Year 2020 on pursuit, the opening of this casino takes the casino-tourism landscape in Nepal to greater heights keeping in mind other aspects of tourism, thereby contributing to build the Nepalese economy," the Deltin Group said in a statement.
It said the casino had employed nearly 250 locals. PTI TIR MRJ NSA
Disclaimer :- This story has not been edited by Outlook staff and is auto-generated from news agency feeds. Source: PTI