Diversification and identification of appropriate tourism products is extremely essential as Nepal plans for 2 million tourists in 2020.
--BY TAMISH GIRI
At a time when ‘Visit Nepal 2020’ is just around the corner, the tourism stakeholders are busy trying to figure out how Nepal can meet its target of two million tourist arrivals. Besides the sluggishness in infrastructure development and marketing and promotion, the concerns of the various stakeholders are now centering on the country’s lack of sufficient tourism products.
For the last several decades, Nepal has relied primarily on a limited number of tourism products mostly in the realms of adventure, biodiversity and cultural tourism, such as mountaineering, trekking, white water rafting, rock climbing, sightseeing, jungle safari and tours of areas of religious and cultural significance.
The length of stay of foreigners visiting Nepal has shortened over the last few years due to this limitation. In 2018 the length of stay of tourists was recorded at 12.3 days which was 12.6 in 2017 and 13.4 in 2016, despite the increase in the number of tourist arrivals.
Tourism sector stakeholders cite Nepal’s inability to offer visitors a wide range of options as one of the main reasons behind the decline in their length of stay here. Of late, some attempts have been made by tourism entrepreneurs and the government to develop new tourism products with the potential to attract more tourists and to encourage longer stays.
Agro entrepreneurs have initiated the idea of utilising agriculture as a point of attraction for tourists similar to what is being done in Latvia, which is a popular international tourist destination for agro-tourism with many farming tours available such as grain, vegetable, fruit, dairy, and livestock tours.
Organic Farm Nepal, a model organic farm, has been practising agriculture in a similar manner. It has been cultivating organic crops and training interns and volunteers who travel to Nepal from various parts of Europe, America and Australia.
Additionally, the activity has become a means to attract foreigners to agricultural farms in Nepal but has been lacking adequate branding and promotional activities. The concept of agro-tourism has become popular in Nepal over the years, and many business houses and entrepreneurs view it as a way to expand their business portfolio. Summit Residency/ Airport Hotel Group and Saakha Group are developing two farms focused on agro-tourism in Khawa, Kavre and Goru Singhe, Kapilvastu, respectively.
Kiran Bhakta Saakha, vice chairman of Saakha Group, sees tremendous potential in agro-tourism in Nepal. According to him, the group is currently working to establish an agro-farm in the forests of Goru Singhe. “We are optimistic about catering to local tourists more but remain positive about delivering our services to foreigners as well. Mainly organic food lovers and meditation and yoga-practising individuals will enjoy our farm,” he says. He says the government’s subsidies in agriculture have encouraged Saakha Group to venture into the sector with a focus on tourism.
Meanwhile, the government has also stepped up to the plate by setting up agro-tourism hubs. In early February, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD) announced an agro-tourism project in Udaypur of Province 1 in association with Belaka Municipality. As per MoALD’s plan, the project will cover 7,000 bighas of land on the banks of the Sunkoshi River. The ministry has also started setting up an organic agricultural farm in two municipalities in West Rukum.
Gastro Tourism (Culinary Tourism)
Nepal is home to a large number of ethnic groups, with a tradition of making delicious cuisines developed over centuries of practice.
Thakali and Newari cuisines are some of the more popular ones which have great potential to draw foreigners to Nepal.
Analysing such possibilities, the Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN), the umbrella organisation of Nepali hoteliers, has taken steps to promote Nepali dishes. HAN and Chefs Association of Nepal have collaborated with the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), Nepali Diaspora, UNESCO, and various stakeholders to promote traditional Nepali dishes internationally.
Binayak Shah, first vice president of HAN, informs that HAN, jointly with its member hotels, Nepal Diaspora and NRN has been organising various food festivals across the globe to promote Nepali foods.
He additionally informed that HAN, NTB and NRNA on demand have printed copies of recipes of Nepali cuisines to teach the cooking methods and have also promoted them via social media and YouTube. “We consider culinary tourism as a major tourism package to promote Nepal’s tourism, Nepali dishes can potentially drive the tourism industry of the country and make Visit Nepal 2020 successful”, he opines.
Nepal has long been described as a perfect destination for meeting, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) because of the pleasant climate and mesmerising scenery.
Additionally, the low cost of living, professional workforce, conference and exhibition space and geo-location close to India and China makes Nepal a perfect destination for MICE tourism, informs Shah.
The government’s initiative of providing subsidies is another positive signal for MICE tourism. The government, during its budget for Nepal Tourism Year 2011, had decided to provide subsidies to companies and organisations conducting meetings, conferences, and exhibitions with hundred plus foreign attendees in order to promote mass tourism in Nepal. Minister of Finance Dr Yubaraj Khatiwada has presented a similar plan in his budget for the new fiscal year.
Shah informs that Nepal has adequate infrastructure for MICE Tourism but lacks promotional activities. “HAN, Nepal Tourism Board and Visit Nepal 2020 secretariat committee led by Suraj Vaidya are taking the initiative to promote MICE tourism in Nepal; the government is positive about it”, he added.
Suraj Vaidya, the coordinator of Visit Nepal 2020 Secretariat, informs that the Secretariat has identified MICE tourism as one of the significant areas of focus for the campaign. “We have proposed several conferences including BIMSTEC Tourism Conference, Climate Change Summit and Tourism Investment Summit to promote Nepal on a mega scale,” says Vaidya. India has already agreed for the BIMSTEC Tourism Conference, and we are waiting for approval from other BIMSTEC nations. We have proposed to the World Bank to select Nepal as the venue for the Climate Change Summit,” he adds.
Insufficient infrastructure development has stopped Nepal from organising any international sports event on a large scale.
However, adventure sports, namely bungee jumping, rafting, canoeing and sky diving, has been attracting adventure-loving foreigners. The number of incoming foreign nationals seeking adventure has escalated over the years.
Bhuwan Sharma, general manager of The Last Resort informs Nepal has witnessed a slight growth in arrivals from China, India, and Bangladesh for adventure sporting reasons, however, participation from other nations has fallen. For Sharma, poor air connectivity, inadequate government policies, and increasing per day expenses are holding back the country’s tourism industry.
“The youth make up the highest stake of adventure-loving population, they save their money to travel abroad and enjoy adventure activities, but in the context of Nepal the flights to and from the country are costly in comparison to other destinations which discourages the young ones from choosing Nepal over other destinations”, he says.
He says the country and the adventure sports industry should focus more on Chinese and South Asian travellers.
The Visit Nepal 2020 Secretariat committee is planning to conduct various adventure sporting events to lure adventure sports enthusiasts to Nepal. It felicitatd a British hockey team which set a world record by playing hockey at the highest altitude, 5019 metres above sea-level near Thorang La Pass, a mountain pass situated at Manang.
Similarly, the Visit Nepal 2020 Secretariat is planning to organise an ice hockey and ice skiing tournament in Gokyo Lake to promote Nepal as a high altitude sports destination.
“Our team visited Gokyo last December to check the thickness of the ice of the lake, and if everything goes fine, the tournament will be held in the coming winter. The motive behind the ice hockey and ski tournament is to promote Nepal as a destination for high altitude sports,” Vaidya informs.