KATHMANDU A leading mountaineering official on Tuesday urged Nepal to reduce climbing fees for Mount Everest and other mountains during the peak climbing season, to lure climbers back from Tibet where mountaineering is cheaper.
Tourists are returning to Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries with largely aid-and tourism-dependent economy, after the Himalayan republic emerged from a long civil war in 2006.
Climbing is one of the most popular tourist pastimes but Ang Tshering Sherpa, chief of the Union of Asian Alpine Associations, an umbrella body of 26 alpine groups, said overcharging was driving climbers across the border to Tibet.
"The royalty rates must be reduced if we have to compete in mountaineering," said Sherpa, who also runs a big hiking agency.
"If the cost of climbing is not competitive, climbers will naturally go to places where they can spend less and we will lose our business."
Tibet is Nepal's main competitor in mountaineering as five of the world's tallest mountains straddle their border, he said.
Nepal charges $25,000 per person to climb the 8,850- metre Mount Everest and $500 for a smaller peak.
Climbers in Nepal must also pay for transporting supplies, equipment and sherpa guides, making climbing pricier than in Tibet from where Mount Everest can also be scaled. Prices in Tibet were not immediately available.
Nepal, which is in political limbo after the former Maoist rebels quit the government in May, earned $230.6 million in 2007 from tourism -- 4 percent of its GDP.
Tourist arrivals grew 4 percent last year from 526,000 in 2007, according to the Nepal Tourism Board, the highest number since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Mount Everest in 1953 and effectively launched the country's tourism industry.
The government has set itself the ambitious target of doubling visitor numbers by 2011.