Kathmandu, November 21:

Dawning of peace may have brought in several ha-ppy tidings, but it appears to have failed to kindle Nepal’s tourism, one of the mainstays of the economy.

The first two months of the peak tourist season (beginning September) have proved to be dampeners. A decline of 4.4 per cent in tourist arrivals this October, compared to 2005, is being viewed by some as a failure of the tourism marketing strategy adopted this year.

“We have not been able to capitalise on the historic peace initiative, in terms of boosting tourism, mainly because we could not undertake any massive marketing drive,” comments Basant Mishra, president Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO).

Even if one argues that the results of the political settlement would take a while to register, it certainly should not have led to the decline in tourists numbers in the last two months, maintains Mishra.

Ironically, tourist numbers reflect a decline, most hotels in Kathmandu claim to be doing brisk business with more than 85 per cent occupancy, even as international airlines are plying packed flights.

That is because there are fewer airlines operating this year, argues Mishra. He adds that hotel bookings reflect the seasonal nature of tourism, this month being the most lucrative time for hotels.

“We neither acted on time nor addressed the market with a definite strategy this year and so a decline in tourist arrivals was bound to happen,” laments Mishra.

Tourism which contributes about four per cent to the GDP has not been doing too well since 2004 as the total revenue earnings went down by 17 per cent, from $180 million in 2004 to $148 million in 2005.

This despite aggressive marketing strategies like ‘Naturally Nepal, Once is not enough’ and hard selling the Himalayan kingdom as not just a holiday destination but attractive for MICE (meetings, incentive, conferences and exhibitions) travellers as well.

According to Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), while the figures for the last two months may appear disappointing, there is actually been a two per cent growth in tourist arrivals in the first 10 months of 2006 as compared to 2005. Even though arrivals from India have dropped by 20 per cent, third country arrivals have improved.

“There are definite signs of recovery. The peak season did not work out too well because this year there were fewer airlines to fetch international tourists, with Cosmic and Nepal Airlines having withdrawing their flights from key sectors,” points out NTB chairman Tek Bahadur Dangi. These being budget airlines were very attractive for tourists from India which alone accounted for over 33 per cent tourists.

But now with Indian Airlines having resumed its services to Varanasi and Kolkata, these tourists are likely to come back, hopes Dangi. “Moreover, the restoration of peace in Nepal has sent positive signals across the world and is likely to help in regaining the confidence of travellers,” he adds.

Even as the board claims to be geared up to boost tourist inflow in the next one and half month, Cosmic Airlines has signalled the resumption of its international and domestic flights this December.

“We were earlier planning to start our services in November but have postponed them till the second week of December,” informs CA director Upendra Karki.

“We will certainly bring back the Indian tourists, at least,” promises Cosmic’s director.