Case study: Niche tourism in Nepal

By Matt Burdett, 4 December 2017

On this page, we look at adventure and sports tourism in Nepal as an example of a niche national tourism strategy with a global sphere of influence, including adventure tourism, movie location tourism and heritage tourism.

Welcome to Nepal!

Nepal is located between India and China. The majority of the country is a mountainous environment. Within Nepal’s territory is the main route to Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Nepal is a low income country with an annual GNI per capita of US$2,520(PPP) (2016).

The need for a tourism strategy

The number of tourists has been steadily increasing in recent years. The dip in 2015 is explained by the impact of a severe earthquake that devastated parts of the country.

The need for a tourism strategy

This increase in tourism needs to be managed carefully. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) supported the Nepali government in designing its tourism strategy (UNWTO, 2014) that runs from 2016-2025. Tourism is still a relatively small part of the Nepali economy, worth just 1.9% of gross domestic product in 2017 (Durbar, 2016). However, it has potential to be more valuable as the amount of money the country receives from foreign tourism has been growing consistently for several years as shown on the graph below.

A clear strategy is needed because of conflict among tourism sectors. For example, at the Mount Everest Base Camp, numbers of niche tourists who aim to reach the summit of the highest mountain in the world are increasing, leading to queues on the slopes, litter and problems of dealing with the large number of people waiting for their opportunity to climb. The existing permit system (in which foreigners pay up to US$60000 for permission to climb the mountain) has failed to reduce the problems.

Sherpas (who carry the majority of tourists’ equipment up the mountains, and prepare the way for the tourists by placing ropes and bridges on the route) have complained of low pay and excessive risks. In 2014, an avalanche killed sixteen sherpas and exposed the risks taken by the sherpas. Changes were made (including paying sherpas more, paying for their children’s education, and changing the route up Everest to a safer one) as a recognition of the need for sustainable tourist development (Chakelian, 2015.)

Niche adventure tourism as a sustainable strategy

The national tourism strategy includes 11 separate strategies to encourage tourist numbers to grow from around 0.75 million in 2016 to 2.52 million by 2025, while retaining the sustainable focus of the tourism (Travel News Digest, 2017). These sustainable strategies include:

  • human resource development
  • infrastructure development target
  • improvement of tourism quality
  • reforms in institutional and management
  • conservation of cultural heritage
  • zero carbon target

The growth of the trekking and mountaineering sector needs a clear strategy to avoid being outweighed by simple pleasure visits (“mass tourism” type visitors) which have a larger impact on the environment:

One key aim to ensure that niche tourism grows sustainably is to raise the length of the average stay from 13 days to 15 days, while raising per-tourist-per-day total spending from $68.57 in 2015 to $90 in 2025 (Prasain, 2016). An aim of the strategy is to focus on high-end tourists that spend a large amount of money on quality services, rather than mass tourism in which people spend less individually but consume a large quantity of services. This will help to ensure a minimal impact on the environment and culture of Nepal. Therefore, tourists will be encouraged from high income countries despite these being far away; currently the majority of tourists are from neighbouring countries.


Chakelian, A., 2015. The end of the Everest circus? How Sherpas are taking back their mountain. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Durbar, S., 2016. Tourist Arrival In Nepal 2007-2016. In Nepal Tourism Statistics 2016. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Jernberg, M. n.d. Everest Base Camp under snow in Nepal. Photo via Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Kelly, J., 2013. Everest crowds: The world’s highest traffic jam. BBC News. Accessed 2nd December 2017

Prasain, S., 2016. Nepal tourism sets goal to boost arrivals fivefold. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Ramirez-Vallejo, J. et al., 2015. Microeconomics of Competitiveness. The Nepal Tourism Cluster. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Travel News Digest, 2017. Nepal Tourism launches new National Tourism Strategy. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

UNWTO, 2014. National Tourism Strategy Plan for Nepal. Accessed 2nd December 2017.

Case study: Niche tourism in Nepal: Learning activities


  1. What is the niche tourism activity that is being encouraged in Nepal? [1]
  2. Why is niche tourism an important part of Nepal’s plans for increasing tourism? [3]
  3. Outline the reasons why a tourism strategy is required in Nepal. [4]
  4. Describe the change in the purpose of visit for tourists in recent years. [3]
  5. Describe the key points of the tourism strategy. [3]
  6. In your opinion, will the strategy work? Explain your answer. [4]

Other tasks

Investigate the sherpa problems on Mount Everest from 2014 onwards. What other sustainability issues can you identify? Consider:

  • Social
  • Economic
  • Environmental

Identify solutions to each of these sustainability issues. To what extent is niche tourism an effective way to deal with these issues?