Direct air travel from Colombo to Kathmandu and integrated tour packages could bring more visitors to both countries.
Nepal and Sri Lanka share certain things in common. Both have beautiful landscapes and areas of great natural and cultural significance. And both want to attract more tourists to see them.
"Nepal has the highest mountains in the world whereas Sri Lanka has famous sandy beaches and biodiversity," Sri Lankan Ambassador to Nepal Thosapal Hewage told Khabar. South Asia.
Now, the two South Asian nations are joining forces to enhance their high-priority tourism sectors by attracting tourists from each other's countries as well as India and China.
To further their common goals, Hotel Association Nepal (HAN) in partnership with the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) organised a 'Nepal Sanjh' (Nepal evening) with Sri Lankan tourism entrepreneurs and government officials in Colombo on August 10th-14th.
"India and China are very lucrative tourist sources for our both countries," Prabesh Aryal, Executive Manager of HAN, told Khabar.
"With their rapid economic growth, India and China are seeing a surge in outbound tourists, which is a great opportunity for both nations. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop integrated tour packages that involve both Nepal and Sri Lanka."
Favoured respective destinations
Being primarily a Buddhist country, Sri Lanka remains a major potential source of religious tourists to Nepal. Around 60,000 Sri Lankans visit Nepal annually-- about 10% of its total tourists.
"Sri Lanka holds a very prominent place in Nepal's tourism sector," Nepal Tourism Board Research Manager Sunil Sharma told Khabar. "In the last three years, Sri Lanka has remained among top five countries in terms of visitor arrivals to Nepal."
Lumbini, birth place of Gautam Buddha, is the favourite Nepalese destination for Sri Lankan tourists. Hewage said pilgrims (mainly Buddhists) prefer to visit the location at least once in their lifetimes.
Similarly, Sri Lanka is an attractive destination for Nepalese tourists.
"Religious tourists from Nepal like to visit Kandy to worship Lord Buddha's tooth relic," Hewage said. "Integrated tour packages between Nepal and Sri Lanka could present very attractive offers."
Areas for enhanced collaboration
Despite this strong connection, one major issue raised in the meeting was travel. There are no direct flights between Kathmandu and Colombo.
"At present air links are either via Delhi, Bangkok or Qatar which has meant lengthy transit and long flying hours," Hewage continued. "Many tourists do not like that kind of transit in between."
Lack of direct air connectivity has meant shorter stays for Sri Lankan tourists in Nepal. According to the most recent Nepal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Tourism Statistics annual report, on average, Sri Lankan tourists spent 10.08 days in Nepal, whereas tourists from other nations spend an average of 13 days in Nepal.
"While coming from India, Sri Lankan tourists tend to spend some time in Vanarasi, cutting down their length of stay in Nepal," Aryal, the hotel association executive, said. "Direct flights connecting Kathmandu and Colombo could increase their length of stay."
He said both parties agreed to urge their respective governments to establish direct flights between the two nations—an issue discussed between Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the June Rio +20 summit.
Kathmandu resident Kamal Kandel, a Nepali student of conflict, peace and development studies at the University of Ruhuna in Sri Lanka, is excited by the Sri Lanka connection.
"Both Nepal and Sri Lanka have come out of devastating conflicts," the 23-year-old Kandel said. "I hope these new developments will be beneficial to both countries."