The government has decided to celebrate 2020 as ‘Visit Nepal Year’ with a goal of bringing two million tourists, which is definitely a good thing for the tourism industry. To make this campaign successful, a lot of national and international promotional activities have been taking place. The inauguration program of VNY 2020 was also impressive.It’s good to see such an initiation for the promotion of tourism but it won’t be sufficient. Numerous issues being faced by the tourism industry also need to be addressed.
The very first problem concerns infrastructure. Compared to other countries, our one and only international airport is very small. We immediately need another bigger and more advanced airport. More volunteers at the arrival and departure terminals of the airports to help foreign passengers are also needed.
Flight irregularities create big hurdles for travelers, foreign or domestic. Out domestic flight timings are unreliable.
Nepal is known as a mountaineering and trekking destination. But connectivity to the places of mountaineering and trekking is poor. Irrespective of what our leaders proclaim, seldom does their words translate into action. For example, to go Annapurna region, you need to fly or drive to Pokhara. Either option is not as smooth as it used to be a decade ago. Only people like us from the private sector know the practical difficulties.
As the entry point for international tourists is Kathmandu, the traffic here should be better managed. The current traffic situation is extremely poor. Tourists have a negative impression of the place right from the start.
Twenty years ago, one could visit Bhaktapur, Swayambhu and Boudha in the valley in a day but no longer. Now it may take a day just to go to Bhaktapur from Swaymbhu.
Apart from these, the fares for international flights are higher in Nepal compared to the neighboring India, putting off international travelers.
Even though we may have many problems, it doesn’t mean we can’t solve them with better coordination between the government and the private sector. The government, tourism board, and tourism-related associations should sit together, discuss relevant issues, and find a way to resolve them.
To develop our tourism industry, we need to explore new destinations. Till now, Mt. Everest, Pokhara, and Lumbini have been the customary ones. The NTB and private sector associations should find new travel locations and promote them.
In any foreign country, tourists love night activities. But our markets are closed before 10 pm. If someone goes to the Boudha area at night, there is nothing to do. Places like Thamel that used to be tourists’ favorite have changed their image as well. Going to Thamel is not nice anymore, as it is crowded and unmanaged. Hotel services are disappointing and many hotels don’t even meet minimum standards.
To improve Nepali tourism, some policy issues need to be addressed immediately. The whole tourism sector is frustrated with the government’s taxation policy; it should be revised. Even the porters in mountains are asked to provide PAN number, which is impractical. Likewise, some change in visa and immigration laws is needed. Concerned authorities should learn from Thailand and India in this regard.
On VNY 2020, we should focus on quality of tourists instead of quantity. Having two million tourists is not a big deal. But we need tourists who go for trek, spend money in targeted areas, and do not evade taxes. Such tourists help create jobs and lift tourism.
In terms of boosting national economy, no other industry can beat tourism. The best thing about tourism is that it creates all kinds of jobs—jobs suitable for unskilled to highly skilled people. Tourism creates enterprises in far-flung areas, where no other industry can go. Hotels are established in places like Mustang and Manang. Can anybody think of running a cement factory in those places? Because of tourism, hotels are there in those places. It encourages people to go back to their villages and generate income, which is an amazing thing O
The author is a former state minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation and currently a tourism entrepreneur