- Ram Bikash Chaudhary
"It has been around 20 days since I have not been able to sell a single handicraft item. There is no alternative business. I am finding it hard to sustain livelihood," said Bishnu Bahadur Basnet, who runs a handicraft business at Lumbini Bus Park. He is struggling to pay shutter rent, electricity and water bills as his business is now down, he complained.
Pintu Lal Baniya is also worried about his business. "I am struggling to operate my hotel with low income," he said. He opened a hotel named Hotel Green Lumbini View eight years ago with the investment of Rs 50 million. Economic crisis has had its impact in hotel sector, observed an entrepreneur Abdul Mobin.
"COVID-19 hit my business of operating a boat in the central canal the same year as I started it. The business was recovering after two years. But, economic crisis has hit again," he said.
The situation is in the recovery phase, and the influx of tourists is also increasing. But, there is a setback. Thousands of pilgrims have visited Lumbini each year, he said. "Followers of Buddhism from across the globe visit Lumbini. But, the business is not good here due to a lack of a balance between the business location and the mobility of tourists and pilgrims," he said.
The total 470,542 tourists visited Lumbini from January to May in 2023. The figure was an increment of 108,486 as compared to 362,056 during the same period in 2022. Although the inflow of tourists to Lumbini increased significantly, the business is not increasing, said Huseni Lodh, President of the Lumbini Tourism Entrepreneur Association.
The business location is around two kilometers from Maya Devi Temple, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, the main tourist destination. The distance between the business location and the tourist destination is a setback to business activities, he argued.
As anyone visiting Lumbini reaches the Maya Devi Temple, thereby leading to a mobility of people in the area. Arrangements should be made to run establishments nearby, he demanded. "Tourism business near the temple was running smoothly until 2069 BS. But, the relocation of establishments to elsewhere has made the matter worse," he said.
The business got affected after the Lumbini Development Trust increased the number of entrepreneurs from 34 to 70 and shifted the establishments to near the Bus Park, he said. "We have suffered a lot since 2069 BS. COVID-19 affected the business for two years. We could collect over Rs 5,000 a day by selling products when we ran the business near the Temple. Now, the business has been greatly affected," he said.
Tourists visiting Lumbini generally do not extend their stay due to various reasons, thus resulting in the decline in their business, said entrepreneurs. In a particular case, Indian tourists reach Lumbini through Indian travel agencies. They directly land in Lumbini on tourist buses, stay for two or three hours and return, said Govinda Gyawali, President of the Lumbini Hotel Association. “Tourists come in hordes, worship at the Maya Devi Temple, take photographs and return the same day,” he said.
He urged the government and the Trust to come up with plans to prolong the stay of tourists. Things could be better if at least visiting tourists stay for one night, he said. Dependence on Indian travel agencies and guides has led to this situation, they argue. Nepali guides should be managed for visiting Indian tourists, he said.
The stay of tourists could prolong by developing Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, as a great spiritual centre and a peace city by connecting Tilaurakot, Ramgram and Devdaha, the areas that connect to life of Buddha, viewed Dr Tilak Acharya, registrar of the Lumbini Buddhist University. “Tourism business will increase by creating a climate for spiritual activities, making available things and materials required for tourism, providing peace and security and constructing infrastructures,” he said.
Manmohan Chaudhary, former mayor of Lumbini Sanskritik Municipality, concurred with Dr Acharya on the matter. Spiritual activities and construction of physical infrastructures are required to prolong the stay of both domestic and foreign tourists, he said, adding that a tour package facility is also required for the holistic development of Lumbini.
He stressed the need for the government to take initiatives to attract tourists who can afford to spend money from the countries that follow Buddhism directly through the Gautam Buddha International Airport. There are more than 30 countries in the globe that follow Buddhism.
Minister for Internal Affairs, Law and Cooperatives of Lumbini Province Santosh Pandey said collaboration among the governments of all three levels, federal, provincial and local, was underway to attract tourists and prolong their stay in Lumbini. Arrangements would be made for tourists visiting Lumbini to get to archaeological and religious places around Lumbini, he said.
The marketization of Lumbini to Indian cities including Bodh Gaya, Kushinagar, Sarnath, Ayodhya, Haridwar and Varanasi among others could attract Indian tourists, he viewed stressing the need for the government to acknowledge the importance of Lumbini and act for its development accordingly. "Lumbini is world's important, sacred and divine place. People require at least a week to visit the religious city."
Various heritages in the area under construction could gradually increase the flow of tourists, said Haridhoj Rai, the information for the Trust. For this, collaboration among the governments of all three levels is required, he added.
According to Rai, most of domestic tourists visiting Lumbini do not stay for even a day. But the stay of tourists from third countries has increased to an average of 1.88 days. Exposure of Lumbini is being increased in the international community due to the increase in the number of visiting tourists, said the Trust's vice president Abadhesh Kumar Tripathi.