Reposted from The Himalayan Times
Two South Asian countries Nepal and Sri Lanka which had tremendous tourism potential but could not exploit them properly are now to launch a tourism development campaign jointly.
Nepal and Sri Lanka are countries which have more tourism potential than any other countries in South Asia. Whereas Nepal is rich with natural and cultural heritages, Sri Lanka is surrounded by Indian Ocean from all sides. There is a possibility of attracting a large number of tourists from India and China, neighboring countries and other third countries, the tourists visiting the region can enjoy the beauty of the Himalayas as well as the beauty of the seas.
Although the number of Sri Lankan tourists visiting Nepal is not enough it has been increasing steadily. It was 9,844 in 2001, 9,805 in 2002, 13,960 in 2003, 16,844 in 2004, 18,770 in 2005, 27,413 in 2006, 49,947 in 2007, 37,817 in 2008, 36,362 in 2009, 45,531 in 2010 and 69,241 in 2011.
Of the tourists visiting Lumbini, Sri Lankan tourists make up a large chunk. In 2010, some 37,645 tourists had visited Lumbini. Of them, those coming to Lumbini via India on land route were 22,052. In the same period, some 22,833 tourists came from Thailand, 5,701 from Myanmar, 5,469 from South Korea, 4717 from China, 2,317 from Vietnam and 2,151 from Japan visited Lumbini.
Deputy speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament Chandima Weerakkody says the traditional relations between Nepal, which is regarded sacred because of Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha, and Sri Lanka, which has a mostly Buddhist population can be further strengthened through tourism.
Her confidence is that Nepal and Sri Lanka can attract a large number of tourists from neighboring countries India and China and other third countries by preparing an integrated tourism package and it can greatly aid the economic development of the two countries.
The government had organized a special promotional programme in Colombo from August 10-14, 2012 with an objective of attracting Sri Lankan tourists, in connection with the declaration of 2012 as the Visit Lumbini Year and Nepal Investment Year.
On that occasion, a memorandum of understanding was signed on tourism promotion, besides discussion in various ways to develop tourism in joint efforts by preparing an Integrated Tourism Action Plan by hotel and tourism entrepreneurs of the two countries.
Chairman of the Hotel Association Nepal (HAN) Shyam Sundar Kakshayapati said although no remarkable cooperation was increased even though diplomatic relations were established 55 years ago between Nepal and Sri Lanka, the private sector had emphasized on promotional programmes as not enough potential of tourism could be developed.
“Next year, we have set a target to attract at least 100,000 Sri Lankan tourists,” he said.
Stating that Sri Lanka, which had been bearing the brunt of terrorism for the past three decades, has been giving high priority to tourism, for the past three years, Sri Lankan ambassador to Nepal, Thosapala Hewage said Sri Lanka government and private sector had been encouraged to invest in this sector in Nepal.
According to Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Sri Lanka plans to attract 2.5 million tourists by 2016 as against 800,000 in recent years, and to prepare 20,000 hotel rooms by adding 100 hotels.
He says that the efforts made by Sri Lanka with development of tourism industry, the mainstay of the country’s economic development, can be an example for Nepal as well.
Chairman of the Sri Lanka Hotel Association, Anura Lokuhety also opines that the initiative taken by the private sector in tourism promotion is an historic achievement as tourism can be an important basis for further strengthening the mutual relations between the two countries.
In Nepal, at present some 60, 000 Sri Lankan tourists come to visit Nepal. Most of them visit Lumbini. In the context that Nepal has declared Visit Lumbini Year- 2012, the target of attracting 500,000 tourists can be fulfilled if more Sri Lankan tourists are attracted.
As Nepal and Sri Lanka do not have direct air services between them, Sri Lankan tourists coming to Nepal via Indian land route, return from Lumbini. They return from Lumbini because of the Indian tourism entrepreneurs without visiting other destinations of Nepal, says Hotel Association Nepal Member, Dinesh Tuladhar.
Nepalese ambassador to Sri Lanka Sushil Chandra Amatya says the governments of both the countries should take immediate initiative towards establishing direct air contacts as a large number of Sri Lankan tourists would visit Lumbini and other parts of the country in that case.
Nepal and Sri Lanka had signed agreement on February 19, 1977 on operating direct air services between them. The then Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation had made a direct flight on March 16, 1977 to Colombo. But the direct services that were closed since 1986 could not come into operation so far. In 2004 also, another agreement was signed to operate Kathmandu- Colombo flights, which could not be materialized.
Although agreement had been reached during Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse’s visit to Nepal from March 2-3, 2009 to operate direct services and to form a joint commission to increase cooperation on bilateral trade and in tourism sector, this could not be implemented so far.
Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) Subash Niraula said special programmes have been prepared in various forums including BIMSTEC and SASEC, among SAARC countries and informed that decision will be taken on maintaining direct air services between Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Diplomatic relations had been established between Nepal and Sri Lanka on July 1, 1957 although there had been religious and cultural contacts dating back to the times of Ramayana, an epic describing the life of Lord Ram and Sita.
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