Many hurdles stand in the way of achieving the two million visitors target set for “Visit Nepal 2020”. The lack of infrastructuresis the foremost among them.
--BY TAMISH GIRI
Nepal is gearing up for ‘Visit Nepal 2020’ and focusing on achieving the two million tourists target set by Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation. The government has allocated a budget of Rs 5.2 billion for ‘Visit Nepal 2020’. Given the history of tourist arrivals, the number set by the stakeholders seems ambitious with infrastructure being a major constraining factor. The poorly managed international airport and dilapidated roads are significant hindrances. At a time when the country has just seemingly come out of the effects of the 2015 Gorkha earthquake and the long political instability, investment to achieve the infrastructural goal is a matter of concern. The country has a variety of tourism prospects to offer to the visitors but overcoming the inadequate infrastructural development is necessary.
The year 2017 witnessed a massive growth in the inflow of tourists to Nepal and set a milestone by recording the highest number of tourists in a calendar year. According to the statistics, 940,218 foreigners visited Nepal during the year, 65 percent greater than 2015 and 25 percent higher than in 2016. Tourism added USD 327.8 million to the country’s revenue during the year. The latest data of Neal Tourism Board shows 680,978 foreigners have arrived until August this year, which is 18.2 percent higher than the same period in the last year. The growth in tourism is visible, and the government is focused on further developing it.
The Visit Nepal campaign is not new for the country; the event was first launched back in 1998. The government during the time had aimed to bring 500,000 tourists, a figure they came close to achieving as 463,684 tourists visited Nepal that year. In 1999, the country witnessed the highest number of tourist arrivals in the 20th century; 491,504 tourists visited the country that year,registering a six percent growth. However, Nepal witnessed a 5.7 percent fall in tourist arrivals in 2000. The descent continued thereafter as the Maoist insurgency intensifiedin the country, hitting the tourism industry hard.
The government observed 2011 as another Nepal Tourism Year with the slogan ‘Naturally Nepal: Once is not enough!’ The government and tourism sector had ambitious plans of attracting one million tourists in the year. However, 736,215 tourists visited the country during the year. The million mark still could not be achieved.
Tourism sector stakeholders, however, remain optimistic that ‘Visit Nepal 2020’ can be a successful endeavour. Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO of NTB, says the socio-political and infrastructure factors were the limitations for the previous campaigns in 1998 and 2011. “The country already has a stable government. Infrastructure is the main limitation for tourism and the country but the government is positive about development and growth,” he adds. According to him, roads and air connectivity are two major limitations of infrastructure development for the tourism sector. “The government has attached high priority to these factors. The construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport is progressing and Tribhuvan International Airport will be upgraded by June 2019,” Joshi states. He says the government is also positive about amending the tourism policy and NTB is arranging various promotional campaigns, adding, “Everything is movingaccording to our plans. We were close to our target back in 1998 and we are optimistic about bringing in two million tourists in 2020.”
Shekhar Golchha, senior vice-president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), while addressing a programme titled ‘Vision for Nepal 2020’in the capital on October 2, said that Nepal has failed to grab tourists’ attraction due to the lack of branding and promotional activities, despite having centuries-old heritage sites and immense adventure tourism prospects. He suggested to the tourism ministry to focus on promotional activities and infrastructural development of tourism in the country.
Shreejana Rana, vice-president of the Hotel Association of Nepal believes that the new tax policy has affected the hospitality and tourism industry. She states the current tax policies are ‘unpleasant’ for both hoteliers and tourists. She says the two-million-tourists target is a challenge that needs additional investment but the new tax policies don’t promote that.She believes the government should reconsider these policies. “We are meeting government officials to discuss the issue,” she adds.
Abdullah Tuncer Kececi, country manager of Turkish Airlines for Nepal,says the poor infrastructure development in the country and the vision of ‘Visit Nepal 2020’ are at opposite ends. Even the roads within the major cities are in poor condition and the airport can hardly accommodate any significant increase in the number of tourist arrivals. “The country has only one international airport where the air traffic is already high. The arrival of two million tourists is quite a challenge in such a situation. The Gautam Buddha International Airport needs to be ready on time,” he added.
Upaul Majumdar, general manager of Soaltee Crown Plaza thinks the government should incentivise the investment in hotels. He says hotels are not one-time investments and require a long-term business strategy. “Governments in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand are offering 20 percent, 30 percent and 40 percent returns as incentives to motivate hoteliers. The government here too should take such steps for making the situation favourable.” Additionally, he prescribes amendment to the policies for making ‘Visit Nepal 2020’ a reality, which includes the establishment of a duty-free zone.
Deepesh Man Shakya, chief coordinator of the ‘Experience Nepal’ campaign for the Non-Residential Nepali Association believes Nepal’s tourism sector lacks proper digital promotion. He says information and communication technologies are the best platforms to promote the tourism of the country and Nepal is lacking in that department.
Sunil Shakya, president of Pacific Asia Travel Association’s (PATA) said the association had started Himalaya Travel Mart from 2017 to promote Himalayan products. During the 42nd annual general meeting of PATA held in the capital on October 8, he said the second edition of the travel mart for tourism promotion was concluded in June this year and delegates from 36 countries had attended the promotional event and additional travel marts have been organised abroad. Shakya states the association will continue the event next year and will additionally conduct ‘PATA Adventure’ in 2020 focusing on helping achieve the target of two million tourists. “The country at present has six major challenges to overcome for sustained tourism, namely infrastructure development (airport and roads), policy reforms, aviation industry (air route and air corridor), human capital, marketing, promotion and research”, opined Shakya.
Sugat Ratna Kangsakar, managing director of Nepal Airline Corporation, says the national flag carrier is focused on ‘Visit Nepal 2020’; NAC is working to extend its air connectivity to major cities of China and India and additionally operate flights to Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Further, he says the airline has a mission of acquiring two additional Airbus 320 narrow-body aircraft by 2019 and start connectivity with South Korea, Japan, and Australia. He says NAC expects the government to extend the depth equity ratio and allocate a further investment of Rs 20 billion; Rs 5 billion has been allocated in the current budget for 2018-19 fiscal year.
Jyotsana Shrestha, chairperson of tourism and air transport committee of FNCCI, while speaking during the ‘Vision for Nepal’ program at Soaltee Crown Plaza on 2 October informed FNCCI is hosting travel marts in India and China targeting ‘Visit Nepal 2020’. She said the travel marts aim to attract tourists from the two countries, which cover half the population of the world.
Bhawan Bhatta, president of Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) thinks the tourism sector should not emphasise high-end tourists but rather focus on increasing the overall tourist arrival. He says NRNA is conducting various programmes, namely Visit Nepal, Nepal Festival, Everest day, Buddha from Nepal and ‘Atithi Devo Bhawa’ campaigns in collaboration with Nepal Tourism Board across the globe to promote Nepali tourism.
Minister for Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari, during the 42nd annual general meeting of PATA, said the Gautam Buddha International Airport runway is half-completed and will be operational within 6 months. Further, he added Tribhuvan International Airport is being upgraded and will soon be operational for 24 hours. He said the airports are crucial for achieving the ‘Visit Nepal 2020’ target and the government has prioritised infrastructural development as its foremost priority. He further informed he has been attending various meetings of the investment board where many hotel chains have proposed to extend their business in Nepal. Apart from that, he mentioned 80 percent of the current tourism policies are not adequate for tourism growth and the government is positive about amending them and is open to suggestions.