Nepal has got a formidable “Brand Ambassador”, in a literal sense to boost tourism in the Himalayan Country as Kathmandu attempts to attract two million foreign tourists this year under the Visit Nepal Year 2020 (VNY2020) Initiative.

Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi last Tuesday posted pictures of herself on social media showcasing the beauty of Nepal as she encouraged people to visit the South Asian country.

“True beauty always deeply touches the deep heart. Beautiful Nepal with history, diversity and nature deserves a visit. Wish #VisitNepal2020 successful!,” Hou said in a Twitter post in which she also tagged Nepal’s Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai.

The Ambassador’s tweet received accolades from Nepalese netizens and media.

“We all Nepalese are so happy and grateful for all the effort you’re putting to make our country better. We thank you for your kind and effort. Thanks a lot. #VisitNepal2020,” Anish Ansari commented in response to the envoy’s post.

“You are also d facto Brand Ambassador for VNY2020. Thank you, (sic)” wrote Shambhu Pokharel.

Ambassador Hou
Photo: Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi.

Earlier in October 2019, Nepal designated 2020 as “Visit Nepal Year” and incidentally also appointed Chinese actress Xu Qing as the official goodwill Ambassador for the VNY2020 campaign.

“It was a wise decision for Nepal to choose her as an influencer to promote tourism from China,” Kathmandu-based Chinese art curator Justin Zhao told Nepali Times.

“Next door China is the biggest potential market for tourism development in Nepal, and the number of Chinese tourists to Nepal is growing rapidly,” added Zhao, who has lived in Nepal for seven years and founded the Himalayan Light Art Award.

Chinese Visitor Numbers Surge

Official data has revealed that nearly 135,000 Chinese tourists visited Nepal in the first 10 months of 2019, a surge of 11.5 percent year-on-year for the same period. The Himalayan country has witnessed a steady increase in visitors from its northern neighbour ever since Kathmandu announced free visas for Chinese nationals in 2011.

The number of Chinese visitors has increased by 32.7 percent in the past five years to a record high of 150,000 in 2018, up from 2013’s 113,000. China is now the second-largest source of foreign tourists to Nepal, just behind India, and accounts for about 14 percent of all foreign arrivals to Nepal.

Following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s successful state visit in October 2019, the number of Chinese travellers to Nepal is expected to peak this year as both countries are poised to advance economic and trade ties through more cooperation on the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), Ambassador Hou said Thursday in an interview.

“Nepal is home to a variety of landscapes and climate conditions, with a relatively affordable travel expense, plus it has close geographic proximity to China.

It is one of the best options for Chinese who would like to indulge in a different cultural environment,” Liu Xiaoxue, an Associate Research Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ National Institute of International Strategy, said.

Nepal’s local media has reported that authorities expect the volume of Chinese tourists to reach 500,000 this year, which would make up about one-quarter of the 2 million foreign visitors Nepal is targeting under the Visit Nepal initiative.

Infrastructure Bottlenecks

While authorities and entrepreneurs have reportedly made an effort to target potential Chinese visitors, concerns remain over poor infrastructure and high airfares.

“Air tickets to Nepal are too expensive. The price in the peak season is more than double to similar destinations. If the price of air tickets can be reduced to about the same as that of flying to Thailand, more people would love to come,” Chinese national Wang Ziping, who runs a restaurant in the Nepalese city of Pokhara.

Others felt that unless the infrastructure bottlenecks such as airports and highways are fixed, Nepal may find it difficult to meet its ambitious target.

However, the Chinese Ambassador appeared upbeat about Kathmandu’s recent policy decisions to boost tourism.

The Nepali Government has rolled out many favourable measures to attract more global visitors, especially more Chinese tourists, Ambassador Hou said. She also noted that at present, direct flights link Kathmandu to nine Chinese cities, with nearly 60 flights per week.

Emphasising China has been the largest investor in Nepal for the past four years, Ambassador Hou said her country is helping its Himalayan neighbour to improve its infrastructure, a key aspect for enhancing its tourism potential.

“As a new force in Nepal’s infrastructure construction industry, Chinese enterprises are active in transportation, energy, communications, agriculture, tourism and other sectors, greatly promoting bilateral trade and investment cooperation,” she elaborated.

Ambassador Hou insisted that following President Xi’s October visit, the year 2020 will be the “early harvest year” for both Countries to implement the leaders consensus.

Noting that work is swiftly progressing on a joint feasibility study of a bilateral free trade agreement, choosing the location of a China-Nepal Cross Border Economic Cooperation zone, food import and export safety, production capacity and investment.