By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal has cut climbing fees for its mountains, including Mount Everest, to attract climbers during the off-season and revive tourism that was hit by a deadly Maoist civil war and political unrest, officials said on Friday.
Hundreds of foreign climbers each paying from $500 to scale a small peak to $25,000 for Mount Everest, the world's tallest at 8,850 meters (29,035 feet), flock to Nepal's Himalayas every year during the popular March-to-May spring climbing season.
Many of the 326 peaks opened to climbers are deserted during the rest of the year.
Tourism Ministry official Tilak Ram Pandey said the government had halved climbing fees for all mountain peaks for the autumn season, which runs from September to November.
Climbers in the winter season (December-February) and the June-August summer period need to pay only 25 percent of the normal fees, he said.
"The new rates, which have already become effective from July 16, are aimed at attracting more climbers to all mountains, including Mount Everest, even during the off-season," Pandey said on Friday.
Climbers generally prefer the spring because they get more daylight and warmer weather.
No climbing fees will be charged for five years for mountaineers wanting to climb any peak located in the country's remote and least developed far western region, said another official, Krishna Gnawali.
"This is a move to attract climbers to those areas so the poor people there can benefit from tourism," Gnawali said.
Climbing industry officials welcomed the decision, saying it could boost tourism in Nepal, home to eight of the world's 14 peaks above 8,000 meters.
"My hope is more and more people will come to climb beautiful mountains," said Dawa Steven Sherpa, chief of Astrek, which runs several trekking and adventure agencies.
Tourism accounts for about four percent of Nepal's GDP.
Officials say tourist arrivals in 2007 jumped 27.1 percent to 360,000 as visitors began to return to the scenic nation after the Maoists declared a ceasefire two years ago.
(Editing by Alistair Scrutton)