The Government of Nepal's recent announcement of a ten-year roadmap for tourism development is indeed a welcome endeavour. The National Tourism Strategic Plan 2015-2024 sets ambitious target of investing some sixty billion rupees from tax-payers money during this period to develop the amenities enough to serve 2.5 million tourists per annum. The expectation from the private sector is even more.
Nepal's tourism sector has long been an example of good cooperation between the public and the private sectors, with or without the concept akin to politically touted about PPP. As a balanced development approach, the public sector needs to invest more in infrastructures like airports, roads, specialized attractions like larger sanctuaries, parks and trails and, of course for security. The private sector can complement by investing in hotels, airlines and other travel facilities and designing products to cater to varying segments of potential tourists.
But the fact remains that public sector investment on larger infrastructures has been not only far lower than expected, rather far short of meeting bare needs to attract a million tourists in a year. The national flag carrier is in virtual ruins for years now, maintenance and repair of major roads is seldom taken-up before they become dysfunctional and public transportation system is simply unreliable.
Even in the proposed Strategic Plan, the government's single focus of investment seems to be on the proposed Nijgadh International Airport. But, as is the case in any highly ambitious projects of the past, this project might get protracted just because the government neither could invest enough through its coffers, nor would it be able to attract FDI or donor funding for faster development of the same. An apprehension to such a possible lethargic approach of the government comes from the fact that even to develop this Strategic Plan, the government instead of taking initiatives on its own, sought financial support from the donor agencies.
But, on the contrary, the private sector commitment has been promising. The large corporate houses, Soaltee and Chaudhary Groups for example, have announced that they would invest in high-end luxury hotels. Investment of non-resident-Nepalis to develop touristic facilities in new areas like Rara Lake and Khaptad National Park of the western Nepal give surer hopes for better facilities even out of Kathmandu, which is a long due endeavour.
The government, even for its credibility, should be able to match the levels of private investment. It must have complementary projects where the private sector has spontaneously come forward to invest substantially. It must, through its resources, undertake basic research on the needs of the specific preferences of tourists that come in volume and ready to pay for the value addition. A few examples to this end could be ensuring Japanese style rest rooms in the hotels of Lumbini area, specialized South Indian restaurants in Pokhara, French food outlet in the bungee jumping sites, etc.
More importantly, the government should refrain from meddling in where things are sailing smooth. The case of the Tourism Board has only reinforced the notion that the government meddling makes things worse. The government definitely has a very important role in formulating rules and enforcing them. But, its intention invariably has been to try to manage things with ambiguous rules, leave some grey area and intrude unhealthily from the legal and regulatory loopholes. This is what exactly has happened in appointment of the Board’s CEO and its operation.
On top of everything, the political parties must stop the acts of frequent bandhs or strikes and thereby sending negative messages that Nepal is again becoming an unsafe place to visit. The tragedy of Nepal is that, it formulates many nice plans in every possible field of development, but not even a portion of it gets duly implemented. This new Strategic Plan on tourism must be saved from similar fate.