Overview of Tourism in Nepal
Nepal has established itself as a travelers and backpacker’s destination, exhibiting its breathtaking landscapes, pristine lakes, and rivers, mighty mountains, diverse cultures and traditions affixed by peace and harmony. Tourism has not only helped with the exchange of culture and traditions, ideas and principles, beliefs and ethics among nations but also has helped Nepal with its financial growth and liberty. In 2019, tourism alone contributed 11.5% of the country’s GDP. As a result, Nepal is highly dependent on tourism for obvious reasons and has become an integral part in transforming the socio-economic scenario of Nepal.
Although an exact timeline of the official history of tourism in Nepal remains mere speculations, some data have yielded information dating back as early as 1792 AD. However, the tourism boom happened in Nepal after the successful ascent of Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953 and followed by the Hippie Trail in the ’70s.
Tourism after Unification of Nepal
Nepal was initially scattered into thousands of kingdoms until its unification by King Prithivi Narayan Shah in 1767 AD.
1792 AD: A military official, Caption Kirk Patric made an official visit in order to collect facts about Nepal. He also wrote a book named- An Account of the Kingdom of Nepal which helped introduce Nepal to the outside world.
1816 AD: Treaty of Sugauli was signed between Nepal and the East India Company, the start of regular visits by the British officials to Nepal.
1850- 51 AD: Then prime minister, Janga Bahadur Rana visited Britain which introduced Nepal and its people to Europe.
1911/21 AD: King George V and Prince of Wales visited Nepal to hunt tigers.
Data from earliest published records of foreign visitors to Nepal found in Percival London’s book “Nepal” reveal visit made by 153 Europeans (mostly British) to Kathmandu between the periods of 1881 to 1925 AD.
Tourism in Nepal after the 1950s
Nepal was sealed off from the outside world under the autocratic Rana regime and with the fall of 104 years of Rana administration, Nepal witnessed development in every sector, including tourism. Only a handful of tourists were granted visit in Nepal before 1950, mainly for trading, climbing and pilgrimage purposes.
1950 AD: Maurice Herzog became the first person to summit Annapurna 1- the tenth highest mountain in the world.
1952 AD: A Swiss geologist Tony Hagen was employed for the government of Nepal to map the geography of Nepal. He traveled 14000 kilometers in the Himalayas and retired in 1972 AD.
A group of wealthy tourists, constituting of students started traveling from England to Nepal via Eastern Europe, Turkey, Kashmir, Manali and finally to Nepal for research and climbing purpose.
1953 AD: An unprecedented ascent of Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary.
The 1950s is considered to be the golden era of the tourism industry in Nepal. World-famous and mighty summits (over 8000 meters) were conquered, not only popularizing Nepal to the world but also paving the way for future tourism industries in Nepal.
1995 AD: Nepal issued a first tourist visa under the tenacious request of Boris Lissanevitch, an esteemed hotelier. He requested then crown prince Mahendra to send tourists under Thomas Cook & Sons Ltd to Nepal in which 20 people arrived form Calcutta as tourists.
First private airline “Himalayan Airways” also began its operations in the same year.
1956 AD: National Tourism Council set up a five-year tourism development plan under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
1958 AD: Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC) formally started its services.
Nepal also began in linking with Indian cities making Nepal more accessible despite being a landlocked country.
Nepal became a member of the International Union of Official Travel Organization (IUOTO), now known as the World Tourism Organization (WTO).
1960’s- 1970’s: The Hippie Trail
The Hippie Trail is an expedition undertaken by the hippies from Europe or the United States in order to reach Asia, mostly being Nepal and India. The purpose of his trip was to explore oneself and stay far away from home as long as possible. Mainly, to escape the radical changes in society after the Vietnam War and other social norms forced upon. They traveled by the cheapest means of transportation available like buses, trains, and also hitchhiking when necessary. The Hippie trail illustrates the route taken to reach to Asia from Europe or the United States. Most of the journey would start from Istanbul and finish in Kathmandu or Goa.
In Kathmandu, hippies could be seen exploring cities, interacting with the locals or spending their days out in temples. Kathmandu Durbar Square, being the popular destination of them all, Freak Street was home to many. Freak Street not only provided accommodations and daily supplies, but it was also a central hub for marijuana and hashish smokers.
Directly or indirectly, hippies established Nepal as a backpackers’ destination which still prevails to this day. Opening doors to nationalities from all over the world, the roots can be still traced back to the free-spirited, soul-searching men and women who one cane to Nepal and called it their homes.
1964 AD: A man named Jimmy Roberts established a first travel agency in Nepal by the name- “Mountain Travel Nepal” in order to organize treks and climbs. He also established Tiger Tops resort in Chitwan National Pak and began promoting conservation of wildlife and the ecosystem. He also played a major role in establishing tourism etiquettes and impart knowledge to the novice trek companies. He is also known as the “Father of Nepalese Tourism”.
Till 1965, all 8000+ meters summit had been conquered which helped Nepal to promote itself as a climbing and expedition destination.
1973 AD: Chitwan National Park was established in order to preserve and conserve wildlife and its ecosystem.
Read more about the Hippie Trail: Hippie Trail and Cannabis Legalization in Nepal
Tourism in the ’90s and 2000s
1998: Establishment of Nepal Tourism Board, which played a major role in promoting the tourism sector of Nepal to the world.
From the period of 1950to 1998, Nepal saw a major boost in its tourism sector and Nepal successfully established itself as a haven for backpackers, adventure sports seekers, soul searchers, and free-spirited individuals.
2001 AD: King Birendra and his family were shot dead in the Royal Massacre.
The moist rebel group was active throughout the nation which compromised travelers’ free roam and increased insecurity. This conveyed that Nepal was deemed unfit for traveling which resulted in a 50% decline in the tourism sector. Tourism was mostly centered in the city area with decreased stay time.
2006 AD: A comprehensive peace agreement was signed between the government of Nepal and the moist rebel group which resulted in increased tourism as Nepal was safe for travels from that point onwards.
2011 AD: Nepal celebrated its first Tourism Year, promoting the nation’s breathtaking landscapes, culture and traditions, conducting various mountain ascents and expeditions and establishing Nepal as a safe and good place to travel.
In 2014, tourism directly contributed to Rs. 83.7 billion or 4.3% of the country’s GDP. In 2018, the contribution of travel and tourism to GDP (% of GDP) for Nepal was 7.9 %, which illustrates a steady incline.
The year 2020: Nepal celebrates Visit Nepal Year 2020 in the hope of attracting over 2 million tourists from all over the world. The government of Nepal aspires to re-brand the existing touristic appeal which was previously directed mostly towards mountaineers and backpackers and broaden the domains catering to all- adventure seekers, soul searchers, pilgrims and luxury travelers. This year Nepal aims to promote and develop 5 major areas- People and Culture, Nature and Wildlife, Heritages & Leisure, Religion & Pilgrimage and lastly Outdoors & Adventure.
Also read: What makes Nepal Unique and Special?