by Shristi Kafle
POKHARA, Nepal, July 20 (Xinhua) -- The arrivals of tourists to Nepal have grown the highest as the country welcomed over half a million tourists in the first half of 2018, while the arrivals of Chinese tourists have grown by 35.35 percent.
Amid such development, the China-assisted international airport being constructed in the country's tourism hub of Pokhara has been termed as a game-changer for Nepal's tourism development and economic prosperity. On Thursday, Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli inspected the airport construction site located in Province 4 and appreciated the works being undertaken by the Chinese side.
"An international airport provides service to the regional and international airports and can attract more tourists. Thus, it will contribute to economic development, tourism growth and will benefit so many areas", PM Oli exclusively told Xinhua on the spot.
Besides attending a special meeting with representatives of the Chinese construction team and project authorities, he also visited the site and took details of the progress. "I am highly satisfied with the rapid construction of the project work," the Prime Minister said.
Many believed that the PM's special visit accompanied by ministers, government secretaries and local authorities signifies the high importance of this Nepal-China cooperation project.
This is one of the three new international airports being built by the Himalayan country, as currently it only has one international airport in the capital city of Kathmandu.
Since Pokhara is the most popular tourism destination of Nepal after Kathmandu, the airport is expected to boost tourism and enhance regional balance in economic development.
Rabindra Adhikari, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, told Xinhua, "Pokhara is the tourism capital not just of Nepal but of the world as everyone wants to visit here. This airport will definitely contribute to the tourism growth of Pokhara and of overall Nepal."
He also expressed hope that more Chinese tourists will visit Nepal after the operation of the airport.
The minister's remark comes at a time when Nepal is celebrating 2020 as the Visit Nepal year with a target of attracting more than 2 million tourists.
Pokhara, located some 200 km away from capital, has even established sister-city relations with some Chinese cities. Majestic mountains, lakes, trekking trails, adventure sports are some of the major attractions of Pokhara.
Man Bahadur GC, Mayor of Pokhara, shared with Xinhua, "The municipality plans to make Pokhara a hub where tourists can spend up to two weeks. I am hopeful that this airport will make our city a prosperous one."
The airport project is scheduled to be completed by 2021 as per the contract signed between the project office and the Chinese contractor -- China CAMC Engineering Co. Ltd.
China Export-Import Bank has pledged a soft loan of 215.96 million U.S. dollars for the construction of the project.
Once the airport is ready for operation, it will have a 2,500 meters long and 60 meters wide runway which can handle medium category jets such as Boeing 757 and Airbus 320.
"We are doing earth works rights now including that of runway, hangar and subways. From mid-August, we will start constructing terminal buildings. I must say the work speed is very good," Binesh Munankarmi, Project Head at Pokhara Regional International Airport, told Xinhua.
He said that the Chinese company has done a tremendous work in the last few months, adding that this airport project is more efficient as compared to other development projects of Nepal.
Currently, around 160 workers are engaged in the construction including over 65 Chinese workers. The Chinese company believes that it can finish the project ahead of 2021 by the current work speed.
Gery Yang, Project Manager from the Chinese side, told Xinhua, "We have completed around 15 percent of the total tasks. We are trying our best to make the project run according to schedule. We are hopeful that we can finish it ahead of time with the improved cooperation from the Nepali side."