The country is gearing up to kick off the mega tourism campaign — Visit Nepal 2020 — in less than a month. While the government has set an ambitious goal to draw in two million tourists in the year and promote Nepal as a ‘lifetime experience’ destination, stakeholders are concerned about tepid preparations of the campaign and are sceptical about the target. Moreover, the falling contribution of tourism sector in the national economy has remained a major concern of the tourism fraternity. Against this backdrop, Sujan Dhungana and Arpana Ale Magar of The Himalayan Times spoke to tourism entrepreneur Yogendra Sakya, who was also the national coordinator of Visit Nepal 2011, to discuss the issues plaguing the tourism industry and his views on Visit Nepal 2020 campaign. Excerpts:
Everybody is talking about the country’s tourism prospects and challenges ahead of the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign. Where does the industry stand today?
The contribution of tourism in the national gross domestic product value, which at one point was almost 12 per cent, is currently just three per cent. Despite this, Nepal has managed to create much hullabaloo about its tourism, making it seem like the sector is the saviour of the national economy. However, statistics show that tourism sector is not the major driver of the national economy.
So, what happened to an industry that had such a major stake in the economy?
Back in the days when the tourism sector made almost 12 per cent contribution to the national economy, Nepal Airlines used to handle over 60 per cent of air travellers in Nepal. Today the national flag carrier handles less than four per cent of air travellers. Thus, the income that Nepal Airlines used to make from air travellers in the past is today being taken by foreign airlines. One of the major reasons behind dwindling stake of tourism in the national economy is the loss in airfare component.
Do you mean to say the tourism industry today is regressive?
I wouldn’t say it is regressive, but the problem facing the tourism industry in Nepal is lack of innovation. Innovation in the tourism sector is imperative to attract new visitors as well as lure people to keep coming back. We have some adventure products for which tourists come to Nepal. Such products need to be expanded and promoted. There is a big debate between quality and quantity in Nepal’s tourism sector. Nepal is not a controlled tourism destination as we are guided by an open market economy. Thus, there should not be any control in the rates and licences in the tourism sector. For example, there has been an exponential growth of hotels in Nepal in recent years.
But hoteliers are not lobbying against issuance of licences to new hotels. In an open economy, hotels do not fix the rate of their services, but consumers do. So, how should the country earn money from tourists?
It is by coming up with innovative ideas that encourage tourists to visit new places and spend on different tourism products. This is where Nepal is lacking. If we look at available innovative products — whether trekking, rafting, zip-flying, jungle safari or bungee jumping — all were initially started by some foreigners. These innovations were started many years ago. But these days there is dearth of such new innovative ideas and activities in Nepal, where tourists would love to go and spend. Tourism is not just about building big hotels and injecting huge investment.
Innovative ideas and activities are necessary to bring in tourists to the country and make them spend. But our tourism industry has been stuck in the rut, in a way.
I think the young generation has been stagnant. They have been unable to come up with innovative ideas that do not require a large sum of money. Not all creative ideas require a lot of funds. The government has announced its plans to increase the daily expense of foreign tourists to $80 from the current $45. We need concrete plans and a wide range of products to realise such plans.
Against this backdrop, the government has set the ambitious target to draw in two million tourists in 2020 and to increase the number of annual tourists to five million by 2030. How scientific are these goals?
In business, it is okay to have high hopes, but faith alone is not sufficient to achieve the set targets. For instance, the biggest setback for Nepal Airlines earlier was lack of adequate aircraft. Today it has comparatively higher number of aircraft, but it lacks the plans to fully utilise them.
We say the biggest setback in the tourism sector at present is lack of adequate infrastructure.
This issue is slowly being addressed with international airports being constructed in Bhairahawa and Pokhara that are expected to be completed soon. But what if these airports fail to generate air traffic as no one today is talking about how to operate them profitably? What if airline companies do not show any interest to operate from these airports?
Should that happen, our investment in these airports and hospitality industry will simply be wasted, thereby affecting the entire economy. So, just developing infrastructure is not enough. Operation plan of such infrastructure is crucial.
The success of any infrastructure depends on whether we are able to operate them in a full-fledged manner once it is ready.
Less than a month remains before the Visit Nepal 2020 tourism campaign is slated to begin. As you coordinated a similar tourism campaign in 2011, what are the changes that you have found in terms of readiness, plans and prospects of the campaign for next year?
Firstly, it is quite important for us to know why we observe such campaigns.
Generally, a country observes such tourism campaigns to give a strong message.
Nepal observed a number of such campaigns, but people remember only two — observed in 1998 and 2011. There were two reasons behind observing Visit Nepal 1998. Internally, agencies including Nepal Rastra Bank had been floating message that investing in tourism industry had no returns and the sector had no contribution to the national economy. Similarly, the Times magazine published an article on Nepal’s Shangri-La titled ‘Goodbye Shangri-La.’ The very brand of Shangri-La that we were banking on had been shaken in the international arena. As a result, the country’s tourism sector panicked. Hence, the Visit Nepal 1998 was observed to counter the aforementioned negative image of the country’s tourism both within the country and abroad. In 2011, the inflow of tourists in Nepal was coming down drastically due to long insurgency and political instability. So, the Visit Nepal 2011 was organised to bring everyone together for tourism. There is much talk about Visit Nepal 2020, which is very good.
Now efforts should be made to assure that everybody takes ownership of this campaign.
From people to the government, they should play the necessary role to make this campaign successful. Hoteliers should ensure quality service to tourists, while the government should ensure necessary infrastructure. Success of Visit Nepal 2020 tourism campaign depends on how everybody is mobilised for this campaign. Ownership of the campaign is the mantra for success of Visit Nepal 2020.
Compared to 1998 and 2011, this is the best time to promote tourism, as the country is stable and the capacity of Nepal Airlines has been enhanced. But confusion today lies in the slogan of the campaign for next year — Lifetime Experience.
Undeniably, the slogan is good, but it lacks clarity on what it means. Campaigners are lacking clarity on the slogan. Any campaign should give one message at one time. Regarding the Visit Nepal 2020, people are quite confused about the message that the campaign wants to give. Similarly, tourism policies are crucial to promote tourism. While we say ‘atithi devo bhawa’ (tourists are gods), our policies discriminate against them and we only treat them as money generating machines. I feel such policies should be changed so that foreigners are encouraged to visit Nepal.
The post OWNERSHIP of the campaign is mantra for success OF VISIT NEPAL 2020 appeared first on The Himalayan Times.
Written by Nishant Pokhrel
This news first appeared on https://thehimalayantimes.com/business/ownership-of-the-campaign-is-mantra-for-success-of-visit-nepal-2020/ under the title “OWNERSHIP of the campaign is mantra for success OF VISIT NEPAL 2020”. Bolchha Nepal is not responsible or affiliated towards the opinion expressed in this news article.