Nepal to woo Chinese tourists with free visas
BY GOPAL SHARMA, KATHMANDU, (REUTERS): Nepal will grant free visas to visitors from neighbouring China as the Himalayan nation seeks to rebuild its tourist industry after two devastating earthquakes in April that killed nearly 9,000 people.
The first of Nepal’s tremors struck during the peak of the tourist season, forcing thousands of visitors to flee early while thousands of others cancelled.
China – the second-largest source of tourists to Nepal – was one of several countries that subsequently warned their citizens to stay away.
China lifted its Nepal warning on Friday, after the two countries’ foreign ministers held talks in Beijing.
“This will help increase the number of Chinese tourists and boost our economy,” Sherdhan Rai, Nepal’s minister for information and communications technology, said on Saturday.
Nepal has already turned to China to beat an acute fuel shortage following a blockade at India border crossings enforced by ethnic Madhesi groups. They complain that a constitution adopted in September has failed to address their grievances.
Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest peaks including Mount Everest, received 800,000 tourists in 2014. Of those, 123,000 were Chinese, second only to 135,000 Indian visitors, who do not require a visa for Nepal.
Nationals from Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the other members along with India and Nepal in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, also get a free visa every year.
Tourism accounts for 4 percent of Nepal’s economy.
On Friday, eight months after the twin earthquakes, Nepal gave the green light for its National Reconstruction Agency to begin work and appointed a chief.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques and Edmund Klamann)
:: Chinese tourists who returned from Nepal push trolleys carrying their luggage as they arrive at Kunming Changshui International airport, in Yunnan province April 26, 2015. (REUTERS-WONG CAMPION: FILES)