By Tamish Giri
Ross Angella, Clinical Territory Associate at Intuitive, UK, and a Kayak enthusiast, was in Nepal back in March 2019 to enjoy his favorite water sport. Ross spent two years between 2017 and 2019 in Asia and had arrived at the Last Resort to try white water rafting for the first time in his life with his fiancé. He enjoyed his trip but was a bit unsatisfied that he and his girlfriend were the only foreigners visiting the Last Resort, a place full of adventure activities that month.
The Last Resort, situated in Bahrabise, once had an encouraging number of foreigners until 2015. However, the number of foreigners started to decline sharply in the following years, affecting the entire operation of the resort and its adventure activities. Following the decline in foreigners, the adventure resort shifted to domestic tourists to sustain its business. Like, the Last Resort, many adventure tourism businesses involved in the water and aerial sports, established mainly to cater to outsiders, have observed a tremendous decline in the number of foreigners compelling them to switch their focus on domestic tourists.
Our market segment before the 2015 earthquake was 70 percent tourists and about 30 percent locals. However, these numbers flipped in 2016 and turned into 60 percent locals and 40 percent foreigners coming to experience adventure. We had seen a sharp increase in the number of tourists from Bangladesh and India and these numbers were consistently increasing until the start of the pandemic and lockdowns. If you look at our ratios now, we can certainly say almost all of our clients have been locals, shares Bhuwan Sharma, general manager of the Last Resort.
At present, the number of Western tourists visiting The Last Resort, famous for bungee, canoeing, swing, rafting, has come down to almost zero. The resort does have some young Indian tourists still traveling to their location. The numbers seem to be declining again with the scare of the new variant of the virus.
Ganga Prasad Nepal, President of Nepal Association of Rafting Agents, shares that the number of foreigners particularly, in rafting sport, has started to divert from 2010. Until 2010 foreigners in huge numbers used to flock in for water sport, especially white water rafting and kayaking. However, the number started to divert towards India, Bhutan, China, and other nations the following years making the situation grimier for business, he shares.
Like, other adventure activities, the number of foreigners enjoying paragliding, the most popular aerial sport, has observed a drastic fall. Yogesh Bhattarai, former president of Nepal Airsports Association, informs that the number of foreign tourists in the paragliding has declined since 2015. Since the earthquake, the number of foreigners declined drastically, he shares.
Shradha Shrestha, Fulbright-Humphrey Fellow, and manager at the Nepal Tourism Board shares that she cannot think of tourism in Nepal without adventure. It’s the major cash cow. Though I feel we still have to do so much more, to get an exponential benefit from the Adventure Industry, and yes we have the potential to do it, she adds.
In total, 4,602,458 tourists visited Nepal between 2015 -2019, while only 491,986 (11%)- third position visited Nepal for adventure activities (mountaineering and trekking purposes specifically). In the last five years, 66 percent of the total number of tourists visited Nepal for holiday/pleasure followed by the pilgrimage of 14 percent.
Even though the number of foreigners participating in other adventure activities may have declined, their number in mountaineering and trekking activities has been growing.
The number of mountaineers and trekkers started to increase and reached up to 171,937, in 2019. Last year, out of the 230,085 tourists 60.5 percent visited Nepal with the purpose of holiday celebration and pleasure. Similarly, 15.6 visited for pilgrimage and only 12.4 percent of tourists came for adventure including trekking & mountaineering.
I feel the increase in mountaineering and trekking activities is due to satisfactory infrastructure development on mountaineering and trekking routes, skilled manpower, promotion, numerous mountains, attractive trekking sites, beautiful landscapes, shares Jinesh Sindurakar, former COO of the Mountaineering Association of Nepal.
A mountaineer creates employment for at least four people. It's regarded as the sector with the capacity to generate a high return in low investment.
According to Tourism Ministry, foreigners mostly between 31 to 60 years of age visit Nepal.
Adventure tourism operators have been compelled to reduce the charges of the adventure activities with the decline in the number of foreigners. Rafting operators particularly used to charge between USD 40-50 for foreigners which have now declined to Rs 2000-2500 per day for Nepali.
Likewise, the charges for paragliding have been cut from 80-90 USD per foreigner to as below as Rs 4000 for Nepali, shares Bhattrai.
The unhealthy price war has made the adventure tourism operators compete, causing a massive reduction in revenue.
The Last Resort conducts around 30 bungee jumps on Saturdays. However, the rest of the week, only around 8 to 10 people on average come for bungee. This is a little troublesome for the resort. This hardly covers our costs and cannot be sustainable in the long run. Financially, we have struggled like so many other businesses over the past two years. We have used up most of our reserves, Sharma adds.
Considering the grim situation brought by the pandemic some of the operators are shrinking, some have reduced overheads, some are upgrading their technology, some are making pivots.
Adventure tourism operators have cut down most of the costs in areas where it is feasible and possible, and further investments at the moment do not sound too practical. It is where the Tourism Board has its roles to fill.
Because of the Pandemic, we could not do much (like everyone) in the physical promotions. However, we have been trying to be there digitally at the required platforms. Also, recently NTB has collaborated with the Vlog challenge done by Mr. Shree Gurung, where 10 internationally renowned vloggers were invited and they did a full story of trekking to Mount Everest in their styles, shares Shrestha.
According to Shrestha, NTB, through Nepal’s Brand- “Lifetime Experiences”, has branded major adventure activities as the “To Do” things while in Nepal.
The board is working for Sub-Brandings for destinations focusing on adventure tourism as prime branding.
We have great and unique adventure products. We are blessed with such natural scenic beauty which is unrivaled. But with travelers becoming more “Aware” these days, it’s time to think about how we can cater these services with a touch of “Responsible tourism”. “Visitor Experience” is what counts, Shrestha adds.
Similarly, quoting the recent revolution Netflix documentary on Nims Dai’s 14 Peaks- Project Possible has brought, she adds that, it has remarkably reformed the Adventure Face of Nepal and this is the time to cash the opportunity to re-establish our position as the ultimate adventure destination globally.
However, tourism entrepreneurs stress that Nepal needs to focus on communication, which is the biggest problem to lure foreigners. They stress that everyone should have the same voice - Nepal has natural isolation, and the country is upgrading to make the experiences even better, safer, and overall better experience.
And then we have to do what we say. It's very simple. We just need to have very clear focused communication. Ideally, we need to hire a very strong creative to work out our common strategy. Unfortunately, it will never happen, a frustrated tourism operator shares.
Meanwhile, Shrestha shares that as a National Tourism Organization NTB promotes all, but activities like Mountaineering, Trekking will still be the focus of the industry.
However, NTB’s concern is more on the dispersion of the visitors, as we do not want certain areas getting over-tourism while others enjoy fewer benefits. Hence, NTB is working on new routes with new themes, and we hope we can diversify and value adds the experiences for the travelers in the coming days, she adds.