The global tourism industry seems to be returning to a semblance of normalcy after a lull of two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Nepal too, the tourist arrival data disseminated by Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) appears to be optimistic despite the operation of limited international airlines to Nepal. Tourism is the second-largest earner of foreign currency for Nepal after the remittance. With the onset of COVID-19, the tourism industry had come to a grinding halt, making thousands of employees jobless. However, the construction of hotels, resorts, and other tourism-related activities was continuing unabated during this period with the hope that the tourism industry will bounce back once the pandemic starts subsiding.
The Nepali tourism industry has greater resilience compared to other industries. The industry bounced back earlier than expected after the 2015 earthquake. Tourists have started coming to Nepal for trekking, mountaineering, and other activities. When Nepal is experiencing stress in its foreign currency reserve, it is definitely welcome news. However, like remittance, only a limited amount of money tourism earns comes to Nepal via the formal banking channel. One of the main reasons behind this is the lack of transparency among tourism entrepreneurs and the lackadaisical attitude of government officials. Many hotels, resorts, and homestays in remote areas are still not in the tax net which has made it easier for them to keep foreign currency to themselves. Another reason is the imposition of haphazard taxes without understanding the pain of the tourism entrepreneurs. It compels entrepreneurs to hide their real business transactions.
To increase tourist arrivals, it is imperative to have a strong marketing plan. At present, there is a tug of war between the regulatory body and the promotion body without any valid reason, creating an obstacle to the development and promotion of tourism in Nepal. Though the provisions of mandatory PCR and quarantine for fully-vaccinated travellers have been revoked, this alone is not enough to build confidence among travellers. Travellers now believe more in social media, vloggers, and bloggers, than the traditional media. So, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) must prepare a plan of action to invite popular social media influencers from source markets on FAM tours as soon as possible to take advantage of the booming tourism market worldwide.
It is equally important for the private sector to supplement the efforts made by the NTB by providing necessary logistics support. The private sector has made a huge investment in tourism. But if they start charging exorbitant rates for fam tours organised by the NTB, it will definitely backfire putting their investment at risk. Mutual cooperation is needed to create a win-win situation for both the government and the private sector.