''Nepal Tourism Year'' launched to boost foreign visitors

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Shirish B. Pradhan

Kathmandu, Jan 14 (PTI) President Ram Baran Yadavtoday launched ''Nepal Tourism Year 2011'' at a grand functionin the capital to attract more foreign visitors and boost theeconomy, which is still reeling under the impact of a decade-long Maoist insurgency that ended in 2006.

Top Nepalese leaders, including Prime Minister MadhavNepal and chief of main opposition Maoist party Prachandaattended the function in the heart of the capital.

The launch of the tourism year also coincided with aSAARC Tourism Ministers� Conference. Tourism Ministers fromBangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan along with TourismSecretary from India and representatives from other memberstates also attended the function.

Addressing a gathering of over 25,000 people at theDasharath Stadium, caretaker Prime Minister Nepal said thecampaign will promote Nepal as a peaceful, safe and one of thebest tourism destinations in the world.

"We are focusing on the development of tourism togenerate more employment so that our youths need not go abroadfor jobs," he underlined.

He said the government will give priority to buildinginfrastructures and developing packages so as to attract moreinvestment.

He said the government will specially focus on theneighbouring markets of India and China to promote tourismduring 2011.

Tourism Minister Sharad Singh Bhandari underlined theneed for "economic revolution through tourism".

"After achieving political revolution, now we willfocus on economic revolution through tourism," said Bhandari.

He said tourism aims to change the face of the countryand enhance Nepal�s international image.

He said boost in the tourism sector will lead economicrevolution as the country moves forward towards peacefultransition after the decade-long insurgency.

Air show, cultural and ethnic pageants along withtraditional musical bands were part of the grand function.

The tourism sector is the largest foreign exchangeearner for the country. It was expected that with the end ofthe Maoists-led insurgency in 2006, the country''s tourismsector would get a boost.

However, the country has been faced with political andeconomic instability that has impacted the tourism sector.

More than six months after the 22-party coalition ledby Prime Minister Nepal collapsed, 16 rounds of Parliamentvote has failed to elect a new leader.

Maoist supremo Prachanda and CPN-UML presidentJhalanath Khanal vowed to promote tourism as a nationalpriority and refrain from launching any crippling strikes,agitation and protests during the year.

A record number of tourists flew to Nepal last year,with most of the growth coming from its two giant neighboursIndia and China, according to official figures. Nepal aims tobring in some 260,000 tourists from India during the year.

Nepal aims to attract one million tourists. The NepalTourism Board said the arrival of some 500,000 foreignvisitors at the country''s only international airport in 2010,15 per cent more than in 2009, showed tourism had recoveredfrom a decade long insurgency that ended in 2006.

The number is expected to cross 650,000 when visitorstraveling overland are included.

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