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Nepal's tourism industry recorded strong growth in 2008, making it the most successful year for the industry in eight years, tourism officials said Friday.

The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) said preliminary figures for the year showed total tourist arrivals for 2008 were around 550,000, but added that full report was still being prepared.

"The total number of tourists arriving by air in 2008 was 4 per cent higher than in 2007," the NTB said. "374,661 visitors arrived in Nepal through Kathmandu airport, the highest since 2000."

Tourism authorities said the figure does not include those arriving in Nepal overland from Tibet and India.

Authorities, however, said preliminary data showed the number of tourists arriving in the country through its borders with Tibet and India was expected to be more than
150,000, pushing the total arrival figures to over half a million visitors.

2008 was the second successive year that the country has recorded high tourist growth, and came despite fears of a slowdown due to the global financial crisis.

"Against the continuing global financial crisis since August, the overall 4-per-cent growth in international tourist arrivals in 2008 can be considered as a healthy increment," the NTB said.

The board said tourist arrivals were pushed up by strong growth of visitors from Europe, South Asia and the Americas.

"European countries such as the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden have maintained the increasing trend," the NTB said. "Total arrivals in 2008 from the United States of America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have also increased."

December figures, however, showed a slight fall in arrivals from Europe and the Americas, possibly due to the economic slowdown.

The tourism industry is one of Nepal's biggest foreign exchange earners, bringing in millions of dollars to the impoverished country and providing employment to hundreds of thousands of people.

However, the industry suffered considerably during the communist insurgency leading to the closure of hundreds of hotels and tourism-related businesses.


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