By The Kathmandu Post
Asia News Network
The Province 5 government on Wednesday announced the launch of Visit Lumbini Year on May 18 with an aim of attracting 2.5 million tourists to the birthplace of Buddha. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari will inaugurate the campaign which is being held for the second time in Lumbini after 2012.
“The campaign is basically aimed at attracting domestic visitors this year and we have started promotional campaign drive in all seven provinces,” said Shankar Pokharel, Chief Minister of Province 5.
Bhairahawa, the gateway to Lumbini has transformed itself into one of Nepal’s largest tourism and industrial hubs with investors and the government pouring billions into infrastructure development.
The once sleepy market town in the Tarai plains was thrust on to the international stage after becoming the gateway to the pilgrimage destination of Lumbini. Proliferating factories and a rapidly spreading transportation network have turned Bhairahawa into an economic powerhouse.
Lumbini, which attracts international pilgrims as the birthplace of the Buddha, has observed the construction of large-scale infrastructure from an international airport, industrial corridor, trade highways to a bevy of luxury hotels.
“The Visit Lumbini campaign is not only aimed at drawing domestic and foreign tourists, but to inform that the area [Bhairahawa] is ready to welcome investors with its world class infrastructure,” said Pokhrel.
A six-lane highway has already been constructed from bordering Sunauli in India to Gautam Buddha International Airport which is expected to come into operation by the end of this year.
“We have been constructing another six-lane road connecting the international airport to Lumbini,” he said, adding that the province government has also been constructing a well-equipped immigration office to facilitate foreign tourists.
Lila Giri, Minister for Industry, Tourism, Forests and Environment of Province 5, said that the campaign has targeted to attract 2.5 million domestic and international visitors to the birthplace of Buddha. He said that the provincial government has allocated a budget of Rs40 million for the campaign with key focus on attracting domestic tourists from across the country.
More than 1.55 million tourists visited Lumbini in 2017. Among them, there were 1.25 million domestic visitors, according to the statistics of the Lumbini Development Trust. The statistics show that foreigner numbers stood at 301,240, including 155,444 Indian visitors.
Despite the growth in foreign tourist numbers, foreign tourists’ stay in the birthplace of Buddha has not increased, travel trade entrepreneurs said. Nearly 90 percent of foreigners visiting Lumbini spend less than an hour in the area before moving on.
Foreign tourists usually stay for an average of 13 days in Nepal but most travellers visiting Lumbini barely stay for 30 minutes, according a study conducted in 2013. The survey titled “Visitors Survey and Observation” revealed that 72.6 percent of the visitors spent only half an hour sightseeing in Lumbini.
According to Giri, the campaign objective is to increase the visitors’ length of stay and create local jobs by adding infrastructure and other facilities. “We have launched road shows and other promotional programmes in some key Indian cities also,” he said.
Lumbini is a potential world-class tourist destination for 500 million Buddhists in Asia. It hosts the birthplace of the Buddha and over 100 related archaeological sites scattered within a 50-km radius.