Nepal attracts record number of tourists: govt

A record number of tourists flew to Nepal last year, with most of the growth coming from neighbouring India and China, according to official figures released Monday.

The Nepal Tourism Board said the arrival of 448,769 foreign visitors at the country's only international airport in 2010, 15 percent more than in 2009, showed tourism had recovered from the impact of a 10-year civil war.

The figure rises by about 50,000 when visitors travelling overland are included, but officials conceded it would be difficult to meet a government goal of attracting a million tourists in 2011.

"We are reasonably optimistic about 2011, but we will be hampered by the lack of direct flights from European countries," said tourism board spokesman Sarad Pradhan.

The government last year declared it would double the number of tourists coming to the Himalayan nation in 2011, dubbing it "Visit Nepal Year."

But the country continues to be dogged by political instability, and few believe the current caretaker government has done enough to achieve anything like that number.

In an editorial Monday, Republica, an English-language daily newspaper, said tourism could lift thousands of Nepalese out of poverty. The sector accounts for around seven percent of Nepal's gross domestic product.

But it said there was a "huge gap between our aspiration and our ability," citing a shortage of hotel rooms and a lack of capacity at the "archaic" international airport in the capital Kathmandu.

The number of Indian tourists travelling to Nepal more than doubled in 2010 to 111,512, while the number of Chinese visitors reached 37,576, a slight increase on 2009.

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