Visit Lumbini Campaign Focus on lengthening stay of tourists

Ballav Dahal

lumbiniWith the construction of Gautam Buddha Regional International Airport gaining momentum and the Visit Nepal Year 2020 at hand, the State 5 government has come up with a plan to mark the Nepali Year 2076 as Visit Lumbini Year. The much-awaited airport is expected to come into operation by the end of this year.
Through this event, the State government aims to rejuvenate the tourism industry in Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, by welcoming 2.5 million domestic as well as international tourists.
The government, in collaboration with Siddhartha Hotel Association Nepal and other stakeholders, has started a promotional campaign in all the seven States across Nepal in order to lure domestic visitors. It has invited the governments and people to Lumbini in order to make the tourism promotion campaign a success.
The event is going to be launched officially by President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Buddha Jayanti that falls on May 18 this year.
The State 5 envisages materialising its dream of achieving economic prosperity through promoting Lumbini as an important tourist destination. A similar event was organised in 2012 as well. However, the event was not so successful owing to lack of necessary preparations.
It is needless to say that Lumbini holds immense tourism prospects because of its religious and archaeological significance. As Mecca is important to Muslims and Vatican City to Christians, Lumbini is the holiest place for more than 500 million Buddhists worldwide.
It may not be difficult for the State 5 government to achieve the visitors’ target as Lumbini is very popular at home and abroad. One of the major challenges before the government is to retain tourists in Lumbini. An estimated 1.55 million tourists visited the birthplace of Lord Buddha in 2017. Out of them, about 1.25 million were domestic travellers. The figures compiled by the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) showed that Lumbini recorded a total of 301,240 foreign tourists, including 155,444 Indians, during that year.
But it is a matter of concern that the stay of foreign tourists in Lumbini has not lengthened over the years. About 90 per cent of the foreign tourists are said to spend less than an hour in the area. A study conducted in 2013 showed that most of visitors stayed just for 30 minutes there. They return to India on the same day.
“The situation has now changed for the better. All the visitors, except for Sri Lankan pilgrims, have started staying overnight in Lumbini,” Apay R. Sthapit, managing director of Hotel Lumbini Garden New Crystal (P) Limited, told The Rising Nepal.
Sthapit, who is also a former vice-president of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), emphasised the need organise various religious, cultural and other activities in the evening in order to lengthen the stay of tourists in Lumbini.
The construction of the Lumbini Regional International Airport has brought cheers to all the people living in Lumbini and nearby areas. The project has created much hope among the local tourism entrepreneurs, especially hoteliers. The airport could prove to be a game changer for the tourism industry in Lumbini if it is operated in a successful manner.
“The Lumbini Regional International Airport may help boost the tourism industry and open up doors for other economic activities. For this, the government must promote this airport and make groundwork for operating it in an efficient manner,” said Sthapit.
Lumbini is likely to have direct air connectivity with several Buddhist nations like Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, South Korea and Vietnam.
Nepal and Vietnam are planning to operate direct air services in order to enhance bilateral trade and tourism ties. The two nations are in the process of signing the bilateral Air Services Agreement.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who is now on an official visit to Vietnam and Cambodia, has appealed to all the world community to visit Nepal.
Addressing the UN Vesak Day-2019 programme organised by the government of Vietnam and National Vietnam Buddhist Association in Ha Nam Province of Vietnam on May 12, PM Oli called on Buddhists to visit Lumbini as it is a fountain of Buddhism.
A lot of Buddhist pilgrims from these two Southeast Asian nations could visit Lumbini once convenient air services are available.
Over the last couple of years, Lumbini has witnessed rapid growth in the number of hotels and resorts. It has observed construction of mega infrastructures ranging from the international airport to industrial corridor and trade highways. A six-lane highway has been constructed from bordering Sunauli in India to Gautam Buddha Regional International Airport. A well-equipped immigration office is now under construction to facilitate foreign tourists.
“Despite being an important part of the Buddhist Circuit, Lumbini has yet to become a major attraction among Buddhists from across the world,” said Gopal Prasad Aryal, a tour guide.
Several important Buddhist sites in and around Lumbini are still in a neglected state.
Aryal suggested that the Lumbini Development Trust and other relevant agencies must make concerted efforts to give a facelift to Lumbini, Tilaurakot and other nearby Buddhist sites in order to attract more tourists.
Another tour guide Arjun Shrestha called for creating new tour packages by incorporating all the important Buddhist sites.
“The local governments and tourism entrepreneurs should come up with innovative ideas to lengthen the stay of tourists in Lumbini,” said Shrestha.

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