Tourism was a major source of foreign exchange earnings. Especially since Mount Everest (Sagarmatha in Nepali) was first climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Sherpa in 1953, the Himalayas have attracted foreigners to Nepal. Mountaineering and hiking were of considerable interest as were rafting, canoeing, and hang gliding. Tourism was facilitated with the opening of airways to Kathmandu and other parts of the country and the easing of travel restrictions.
In the 1950s, there was a shortage of hotels. Beginning in the 1960s, the government encouraged the building of hotels and other tourist facilities through loans. According to government statistics, between 1985 and 1988 the number of hotel rooms increased from under 22,000 to more than 27,000.
Prior to the trade impasse with India beginning in March 1989, tourism had grown by more than 10 percent per year for most of the 1980s. Between 1985 and 1988, the number of tourists increased from approximately 181,000 to about 266,000. More than 80 percent of the tourists arrived in the country by air.
In FY 1985, more than US$40 million worth of foreign exchange was earned through tourism. By FY 1988, this amount had increased to more than US$64 million. In FY 1989, tourism accounted for more than 3.5 percent of GDP and about 25 percent of total foreign exchange earnings. The 1989 trade and transit impasse with India negatively affected tourism because the transport and service sectors of the economy lacked supplies. Beginning in FY 1990, however, Kathmandu initiated a policy to allocate fuel on a priority basis to tour operators and hotels.
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