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Nepal's Vital Tourism Sector Revives

The end of a decade-long civil war in Nepal is drawing tourists back into the country, whose high Himalayan peaks attract hikers and visitors from all over the world. From New Delhi, Anjana Pasricha reports, tourism is vital for the tiny, landlocked nation's economy.

Nepalese officials say that 50,000 tourists arrived during October - the highest number since 2000.

Tourist arrivals in Nepal fell sharply in recent years as the country was gripped by a violent Maoist rebellion. But a democratic election in April put the former guerrillas in power, and returned peace to the country. In the months since, most countries have removed Nepal from travel warning lists.

As a result, tourists are once again heading to the scenic Himalayan peaks in the mountain country.

The director of the Hotel Association of Nepal, Madhav Om Shrestha, says the demand for hotel accommodations had declined in previous years. But business now is brisk.

"Peace and security has really very much improved and that has given a very good atmosphere for tourists to come here….the hotels have already been booked actually, fully booked," said Shrestha.

Officials also hope that Nepal will escape the worst impact of the global financial meltdown, which is hitting tourism in other countries.

Sarad Pradhan, a spokesman for the Nepal Tourist Board, is optimistic that tourists will continue to flow into the country.

"The tourists who come to Nepal are from India, and secondly China, so they are till now not very badly affected by the credit crisis," said Pradhan. "Tourists [who] come from Europe, America, Japan they go for the trekking. And the thing is most of the tourists who come to Nepal are not very high profile tourists. They are what you call backpackers…I do not think it will affect their itinerary."

Hikers head for the many Himalayan peaks in the country, which are popular among high altitude climbers. They help generate much needed jobs in far-flung rural areas, where they hire local residents as porters and guides.

Officials say the downturn in tourism in recent years had prompted many poor people in Nepal to head to Middle East countries for employment, but they hope the revival in tourism will stem the exodus.

Tourism is also one of the main foreign exchange earners for the country, which is one of the poorest in the world.

More than one half million tourists are expected to visit the country this year. The government says it hopes to double that by 2011.