In Nepal, tourist arrival has shown a rapid recovery after the earthquakes of 2015. Total arrivals neared the one-million mark for the first time. Buoyed by the growth in tourist arrivals in recent years, Nepal has already set a target of welcoming 1.5 million international visitors by 2020.
Tourism sector holds immense potentials for Nepalese economy that can provide stimulus to other sectors through backward and forward linkages. The best part of tourism revenue is that it trickles down to the grassroots level, benefiting people affected by tourism activities. However, given the huge potentials for tourism development backed with pristine natural environment, abundant wildlife and rich culture and traditions, tourism development in Nepal is far below expectations. This is mainly due to infrastructure bottlenecks, lack of proper connectivity, decentralization of tourism activities to new areas and diversification of tourism products and services.
Most of the tourists coming to Nepal are adventure and leisure segments. The country has immense tourism potentials, like the Spiritual and Buddhist Circuits pilgrimage, which has not be exploited to the fullest. Though we are getting some Buddhist Circuits tourists from India, we are not being able to get much benefit from them as they seldom spend a night here. But things are changing for good. Nepali tourism entrepreneurs have begun starting Buddhist Circuits tourism from Nepal, promoting Lumbini as the birthplace of Buddha and a gateway to Buddhist Circuits. With the construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport, Bhairahawa near Lumbini, tourists flow to this segment is expected to increase significantly, establishing Buddhist pilgrimage an important segment in Nepali tourism industry.
The Buddhist Circuit is a route that follows the footsteps of the Buddha from Lumbini in Nepal where he was born, through Bodh Gaya (India) where he attained enlightenment, to Sarnath (India) where he gave his first sermon, and Kushinagar (India) where he died. This iconic route only includes places where the Buddha actually spent time, and these places have important sites and monuments – all of which are over 2500 years old – which are revered by all Buddhist followers. The Buddhist Circuit is an important pilgrimage destination for nearly 500 million people following Buddhism, as well as millions of other travelers interested in history, culture or religion.
But Buddhist pilgrimage tourism is not limited to these four sites alone. There are Buddhist monuments in other countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos, among others. Most of these sites are still to be connected to the Buddhist Circuits map.
The growing number of Buddhist followers all over the world has given birth to a niche tourism product in the Indian sub-continent and South East Asia, which have Buddhist sites in abundance. Nepal and India stands a chance to get lion’s share of revenue from this niche tourism product as all four principal Buddhist pilgrimage sites lie in these two countries. Realizing this very fact, Nepal Association of Travel and Tour Operators (NATTA) – an umbrella organization of tour and travel agents, conceived Buddhist International Travel Mart (BITM) at Lumbini and Bhairahawa in Nepal from 10-12 January 2019, under the theme: Explore the Buddhaland: A Gateway to Buddhist Circuits.
The main Organizing Committee of the Buddhist International Travel Mart (BITM 2019) was formed under the chair of the Secretary of Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation as the host, Nepal Tourism Board became the organizing partner, NATTA became the implementing organization and all other pioneer tourism stakeholders became the supporting partners for this event.
A number of Buddhist devotees and spiritually inclined tourists visit Lumbini, Nepal every year for the very purpose of visiting the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Nevertheless, Lumbini has not been globally recognized as spiritual place for peace and harmony. This became the great opportunity for every tourism stakeholder to promote and highlight Buddhist destinations of Nepal.
NATTA extends its gratitude to the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Hon’ble Rabindra Adhikari who has graced the event as the Chief Guest in opening ceremony in Lumbini and Bhairahawa for B2B event. Similarly NATTA express its appreciation to the Minister for Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment, Province No. 5, Hon”ble Lila Giri for his gracious presence as the guest of honor.
There were participation from more than 15 countries representing buyers, bloggers, media and speakers. The involvement of Government, Local Government, local participants, Buddhist Gurus, Buddhist tourism entrepreneurs were the main strengths of the event. This event became an eye opening of Visit Lumbini and Visit Nepal 2020.
The credit goes to all the sponsors, media, national and international airlines, hotels in Kathmandu, Chitwan, Bhairahawa and Lumbini supporting organization who had extended their hand for the grand success of the event, NATTA express its gratitude to all of them for their support and co-operations.
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