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Cross border tourism between Sikkim and Nepal and its benefits to Nepal

On 6th January 2016, National Tourism Foundation organized an interaction event with Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation officials to establish and develop cross border tourism between Nepal and Sikkim. Cross-Border tourism is a tourism strategy in which two or more than two countries promote each other’s tourism industries through connecting flight routes, overland routes, cross country travel packages, etc. Besides making use of the physical infrastructure of each country, it's the business, marketing and sales networks that synergise the entire project to make or break such endeavour. It is a tried-and-tested successful strategy between Nepal and its partners.

Tourism industry in Nepal started to bloom after Nepal adopted “Open door” policy during the 1950s. Through the open door policy, Nepal allowed foreign investors as well as foreign tourists inside nepal. Adventure tourism which mainly includes mountaineering, hiking, trekking also started to develop during the 1960s. Since Nepal is naturally rich in mountain resources and has a large population of high altitude settlers such as Sherpas and other groups, adventure tourism was the obvious one to specialise in. In a span of couple of decades, Nepal became adept at many aspects of adventure tourism in the mountains including management, marketing and the sales aspects. In 1980’s, when the Chinese government opened Tibet, an autonomous region of China, Nepal had already established itself as an adventure sports hub in the greater Himalayan range. Cross border tourism strategy was adopted between Tibet and Nepal to help in the tourism development of Tibet. Flight routes between Kathmandu-Lhasa, over-land routes and cross-country travel packages were introduced to aid cross border tourism. Nepalese tour companies were also given government authority to market, sell and operate Tibet tour packages. It was one of the more successful tourism strategies which helped generate inertia for development of tourism in Tibet. While Tibet began experiencing rapid growth in tourist arrivals, Nepal too got extra numbers of visitors who were on their way to Tibet. The transit tourists spent few days in nepal to visit tourist attraction, stay at hotels here and eat in the restaurants in Nepal. By early 2000’s, hotels in Kathmandu had high occupancy rates even in off-seasons.  Nepalese trek crews too thought that off-season days of unemployment were over.

Bhutan too followed the same strategy to initiate tourism development in early 90’s. Adoption of cross border tourism was done swiftly both by Nepal and Bhutan. Its success has lead Bhutan to become popular as upmarket adventure tourism. Flights began to operate between Kathmandu and Paro followed by a new visa process system that suited the strategy. After the initiation, many Bhutanese tourism professionals received trainings from many travel companies in Nepal along with trek crews. In the immediate years after, Nepal exported a great deal of relevant equipments and gears to Bhutan-a trend that continues to this day.

With similar vision, cross border tourism between Nepal and Sikkim is being developed so that adventure tourism sector of Sikkim can flourish rapidly with benefits to Nepal as well. Since cultural and traditional traits of Sikkim and Nepal do not vary by much, tourism experts are hopeful that cross border tourism between Sikkim and Nepal will become successful like with Tibet and Bhutan. Cross border tourism relations with Sikkim will grant Nepalese tour companies authority to market and sell Sikkim travel packages. Tourists visiting Nepal will also have an easier route to travel from Nepal to Sikkim and vice versa, boosting the tourism sector of both places. Cross border tourism will also establish a foundation for Sikkim’s own airport planned to be completed in December 2016. Joint efforts of both Nepal and Sikkim for instituting framework of cross border tourism will have beneficial results for both places.

For Nepal, a country going through series of political turmoil, this will definitely prove to be a much needed boost.

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