Nepal expects to receive a record 40,000 tourists from China during the two-week-long Chinese New Year Holiday which begins on Friday, travel traders said.
Also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, all of China goes on vacation to mark the occasion. The festival will last until March 2.
The start of the Year of the Dog is expected to give a major boost to Nepal tourism.
“This is an annual travel rush. Like other countries, Nepal receives a major chunk of Chinese outbound during Chinese New Year,” said Bishwesh Shrestha, managing director of Shuang Qi Tours and C&K Nepal Treks, one of the major agencies handling Chinese tourists.
“We expect arrivals to jump 30 per cent to 40,000 this New Year.”
With schools and offices closed, hundreds of millions of people will travel in China or go on a foreign trip.
Some 6.5 million people are expected to make trips overseas during the two-week-long holiday beginning Friday, according to media reports.
“This is 6 per cent more than last year, as a strong yuan has made foreign travel feel relatively cheap.”
Nepal has become increasingly popular among Chinese tourists in recent years. According to the Department of Immigration, arrivals from China, the country’s second largest source market after India, totalled 104,664 individuals last year.
“Although the 2015 earthquake had put the brakes on Chinese tourist growth, it has started to gain momentum,” said Shrestha.
Based on the current growth trend, Chinese arrivals in Nepal are likely to reach 150,000 this year, he said.
The rise in Chinese arrivals has been attributed to increased air connectivity between Nepal and China. Currently, five Chinese carriers-Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Sichuan Air and Tibet Airlines-connect Nepal with mainland China.
According to Osho World Travel, one of the leading travel agencies in Nepal, inbound flight bookings on the Guangzhou-Kathmandu sector have been recorded at more than 90 per cent from mid-February to early-March.
China Southern Airlines operates double daily flights on the sector.
Likewise, flight bookings on the Kunming-Kathmandu route have been recorded at more than 70 per cent for the mid-February to mid-March period, said Deepak Basnet, ticketing executive of Osho World Travel.
China Eastern Airlines operates double daily flights on the route.
Inbound Tibet Airlines flights on the Chengdu-Kathmandu and Xi’an-Kathmandu routes are over 60 per cent booked. Air China, that operates daily flights on the Kathmandu-Chengdu sector and three weekly flights on the Kathmandu-Lhasa sector, reported 85 per cent occupancy until February 22.
Another Chinese carrier, Sichuan Air, is fully booked until February 26. Similarly, Hong Kong-based Cathay Dragon that operates five weekly flights to Nepal is also fully booked until February 19.
Visitors from the northern neighbour are valued as they have helped to give a fillip to Nepal’s tourism industry after arrivals from the traditional European markets started trailing off due to political instability and a wobbly economy.
On December 25, 2015, Nepal announced free visas for Chinese tourists, giving them the same treatment accorded to Saarc visitors, in a bid to revive flagging arrivals hit by the 2015 earthquakes and subsequent trade embargo by India.
Chinese tourists are expected to travel to Nepal in droves if the plan to develop a railway link to Nepal by 2020 materializes, said Shrestha.
According to him, there are two classes of Chinese tourists in Nepal. Nearly, 70 per cent of the Chinese visitors in Nepal prefer staying in four- and five-star hotels, he said.
They spend over US$100 (S$130) a day. The remaining 30 per cent prefer Thamel’s hotels and lodges including two-and three-star hotels.