Nepal starts the New Year with the launch of the Visit Nepal (VN) 2020 campaign. The government has set an ambitious target of hosting two million tourists during the campaign year. After Visit Nepal Year 1998 and Nepal Tourism Year 2011, this is the third mega campaign to promote the country's tourism. However, the prospects for VN 2020 do not appear too bright at the moment, mainly because the preparations for the campaign have been weak. The VN 2020 Secretariat and the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) have been tasked with marketing and managing the overall campaign. However, the promotion of VN 2020 across the world has not been up to the mark. The launch of brand identity of the campaign only in September 2019 is an example of the sluggishness in branding and promoting the visit year. Be it the mobilisation of Nepali Diaspora or Nepal’s diplomatic missions, there are serious shortcomings in promoting the campaign. It is an irony that many tourists visiting Nepal are unaware of the major tourism campaign in the country.
One of the main reasons behind this is the low amount of budget allocated for tourism development. The government has slashed the budget for the tourism sector by 51 percent to Rs 2.8 billion in the current fiscal year, from Rs 5.2 billion in FY2018/19. It is surprising that the budget cut comes at a time when the government has committed to doing everything in its reach to make VN 2020 a success. The insufficient budget has not only impacted promotional activities; it can also jeopardise the overall campaign preparations.
Meanwhile, the poor state of tourism infrastructure, specifically in connectivity such as airports and roads, is another major hindrance to meeting the VN 2020 target. The years-long planning to ease congestion at the Tribhuvan International Airport, the country’s only international airport, haven’t materialised. Completion of the Gautam Buddha International Airport has been delayed, and it seems it will take another year for the project to be completed. The construction of road infrastructure connecting key tourist destinations across the country is still in disarray, making it difficult for travellers to move around.
The lack of coordination between the tourism-related government authorities themselves and major stakeholders of the Nepali travel and tourism trade is another problematic area. From the tourism ministry, NTB, VN 2020 Secretariat, associations of tourism related businesses to provincial and local governments, synchronised and harmonised efforts are necessary to make a campaign of this level a success. It is important to know that the efforts will be futile in the absence of a concerted effort. The delay in appointing a new CEO in the Tourism Board also has complicated matters.
All these point to the lack of a holistic approach for VN 2020. In fact, there were no proper plans in the first place when it was announced some two and a half years ago. However, the government and tourism sector stakeholders can still work to improve things. The ongoing construction of new airports, upgradation of the existing ones and major roads need to be expedited. Alongside, efforts of stakeholders such as promotional activities, managing the stay of tourists and ensuring their security should be done in tandem. The lessons learnt from tourism events in the past should also be utilised; the success of VNY 1998 and failure of Nepal Tourism Year 2011 can provide some important cues. Over the last few years, the country’s private sector has invested a huge sum of money in hotels and other infrastructure targeting the VN 2020. It is also the responsibility of the government to ensure the safety of the investments by being proactive to attract two million visitors as aimed. The success of VN 2020 is going to shape the image of Nepal as a major travel destination in the world. The campaign’s slogan “Lifetime Experiences” can be meaningful only if things take a right turn.