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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Nepal targets tourism uplift
By Sushil Sharma
BBC correspondent in Kathmandu

Trekkers in Nepal
Trekking in the Himalayas in popular among Western visitors

The Nepalese government has announced visa incentives to lure potential tourists.

Visa fees for visitors from South Asian countries and neighbouring China have been dropped while concessions to western visitors have also been announced.

The finance minister, Prakash Chandra Lohani, said that the move is aimed at reviving the country's sagging tourism industry.

Mr Lohani said that the visa incentive is expected to bring in an additional 200,000 visitors from the region every year.

Tourist arrivals in Nepal dropped to a little over 200,000 last year, from nearly half a million three years ago.

Exempted

India was the only country that enjoyed the visa exemption in the past. It accounted for a third of the total tourist arrivals in Nepal.

The authorities have hoped that the new move would lure tourists from the country's northern neighbour, China, and other members of the seven-nation regional grouping, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

At present, these countries account for a fraction of the tourists visiting Nepal.

Besides India, Western tourists are the mainstay of Nepal's tourism.

In an attempt to encourage more visits, the government has announced that the tourists who stay in Nepal for at least 15 days will not have to pay visa fees if they return to Nepal within a year.

Tourists visiting the country for three or fewer days would also be exempted from paying the visa fee.

Ceasefire

Tourism is a major source of foreign currency earnings and employment in Nepal.

Its growth is seen as crucial if the country's economy - battered by a long-running Maoist insurgency - is to be revived.

There has been a marginal recovery after the government and the Maoist rebels announced a ceasefire last January and initiated peace talks.


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