Nepal officially opened its door to tourists in 1951. The first Tourism Master Plan in 1972 showed the government’s commitment to developing this sector. The Government of Nepal and the private sector have been working together to develop tourism: the private sector has taken the operational lead and the government has introduced regulatory reforms and developed infrastructure. The Tourism Policy of 1995 aims to develop tourism as a priority sector in Nepal.
Tourism has grown considerable in Nepal in recent years. The number of tourists jumped from 380,000 in 2006 to about 800,000 in 2013. Recent data shows that more than two-thirds of tourists come for holidays, trekking expeditions, or pilgrimages. About a third of tourists are between the ages of 30–45 and about 20% are from India. The average length of stay for a tourist in Nepal is about 13 days. More tourists visit in March, October, and November than other months.
The Nepal Tourism Board, the body responsible for promoting tourism in Nepal, has launched a plan, in which it aims to achieve an increase in annual international tourist arrivals to Nepal to 2 million by 2020, as well as employment in the tourism sector of one million.
There are currently 105 star hotels, 625 standard tourist hotels, and 226 homestay facilities. Out of the 105 star hotels, 8 are 5-star. Room occupancies in 5-star hotels generally hover between 40–80% during peak season.
Eight out of the 10 highest mountains in the world are in Nepal. Nepal also has 20 protected areas, which cover 23% of its land area: 10 national parks, 3 wildlife reserves, 6 conservation areas, and 1 hunting area. Nepal’s land accounts for only 0.1% of the total land mass in the world; however, in terms of biodiversity, the country has about 2.8% of plants, 4% of mammals, and 3.72% of butterflies, as well as 8.9% of birds found globally.
Although tourism is an important sector for Nepal’s overall development and has achieved higher growth rates than those achieved by the overall economy, it accounts for only about 2% of GDP. In 2012/13, the tourism sector earned approximately USD 400,000.
Hotels and restaurants