India, Nepal set to sign landmark tourism deal
By Anil Giri, Kathmandu, Feb 20 : India and Nepal are all set to sign a landmark tourism deal which is expected to boost tourism bilaterally and create an environment for injecting more investment in this sector in a big way.
The draft for the proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) on bilateral tourism investment and cooperation prepared by the two sides is in its final stages with a joint working group giving it a final shape.
"Though we are so close and we have enormous opportunities to bring investment in the tourism sector, we felt the need to have such an avenue so that we can bring investment, boost tourism and provide better facilities to tourists traveling to both countries," Mohan Krishna Sapkota, spokesperson of Nepal's ministry of tourism and civil aviation, said.
"Keeping in a mind that there are enough areas to work together for mutual interest and benefits, we are considering signing a pact in this respect with the Indian side very soon," he added.
Sapkota said a technical team comprising experts in the travel and tourism sectors from both countries has prepared a draft MoU. It is a government-to-government pact which will explore and identify areas of cooperation on mutual basis, he added.
The draft suggests that both sides should facilitate overland travel by tourists, create hassle-free transport movement at major crossing points, and ease border formalities at the customs points.
It also urges both sides to create a sense of security for travellers which only can create an environment that can expand the market.
The joint panel also suggested that Nepal cash in on the travel benefits provided to Indian holiday-makers like leave travel concession.
It called for effective coordination and cooperation with and among the India Railways and airlines to boost the market on both sides and opening of the Banbasa bridge over Sarada/Mahakali river on the India-Nepal border in western Nepal.
The panel also suggested that landing and parking charges be transacted in Indian currency. At present, Indian currency notes of denominations Rs.1,000 and Rs.500 are prohibited in Nepal which many tourism entrepreneurs term as a "stumbling block".
Similarly, both sides also called for settling the confusion relating to debit and credit cards issued by Indian banks which are not valid for foreign exchange in Nepal and Bhutan.
To promote tourism-related activities, the joint technical team also suggested holding an annual India-Nepal forum meeting for joint tourism promotion.
"We are hopeful that such an arrangement would definitely boost investment in the tourism sector," said Sapkota.
In line with the new pact, Nepal has also proposed its readiness to revise the air service agreement with India if the existing air seats facility proves inadequate in catering to increasing movement of travellers.
Visitors from India, the largest tourist source market for Nepal, spent 9.34 days per visit per person on an average last year compared to 7.99 days a year before.
According to the Nepal Tourism Board, at least 694,136 Indian tourists visited Nepal in 2012 via air and surface routes.
Ahead of the signing of the pact, a recent Indian government decision on visa liberalisation to extend the visa-on-arrival facility to travellers from nearly 180 countries from this year has sent a positive vibe in Nepal's tourism sector.
Considering that tourism is the backbone of Nepal's economy, tourism entrepreneurs have hailed the Indian decision on visa liberalisation and hoped that there would be greater chances of tourists visiting India making a trip to Nepal also due to the close proximity.
(Anil Giri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--IANS (Posted on 20-02-2014)
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