The government of Nepal’s federal province 5 is all set to launch Visit Lumbini Year this Saturday (May 18) with the aim of attracting 2.5 million tourists to the birthplace of Buddha. The country’s president Bidhya Devi Bhandari will inaugurate the campaign, which is being held for the second time.
“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 let everyone known that the area is ready to welcome investors with its world class infrastructure,” Pokhrel told the press.
A six-lane highway has already been constructed from bordering Sunauli in India to Gautam Buddha International Airport and is expected to come into operation by the end of this year.
Lila Giri, Minister for Industry, Tourism, Forests and Environment of Province 5, said that the provincial government has allocated a budget of Rs40 million (Bt11.3 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, of which 1.25 million were 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 worldclass tourist destination for 500 million Buddhists in Asia. It hosts the birthplace of the Buddha and over 100 related archaeological sites scattered within a 50km radius.