Oped

So much to do

Tourism and Nepal are synonymous yet we fail to capitalise it fully

- NISCHAL DHUNGEL
According to the statistics provided by the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), tourist arrivals increased by 25 percent this year, in comparison to 2016, making the total number of tourists inflow 9,40,218. Because of this increase, the revenue from the tourism sector also rose to $658 million--an 18.7 percent increase in comparison to the income generated in 2016. This growth in numbers  signals that tourist arrival might finally hit that one-million mark this year, a target that was set by the NTB  back in 2011. 
Recently, however, the federal budget presented by Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada unveiled the launch of Visit Nepal Year 2020 with the goal of attracting two million foreign tourists to the country. And although the announcement has gotten the tourism sector optimistic, there are a lot of issues that  need to be addressed and resolved if we are to ever achieve this two-million target—a goal that looks highly ambitious and unattainable at the moment.
Nepal has immense tourism potential. But recent insurance scams involving fraudulent helicopter rescues and unnecessary hospital treatments in the tourism industry have tarnished the reputation of the country. Because of these scams, which cost companies millions of dollars, international insurance companies could stop issuing travel insurance policies to tourists visiting Nepal. Scams like this also discourage foreign tourists from coming to our country, and no amount of promotion will undo the damage such incidents inflict on our country’s global image. To eliminate these fatuous acts, the government has jumped to action and endorsed new guidelines on the search, rescue, and treatment and monitoring of tourists. It also aims to hold rescue operation agencies accountable for their actions.
Early this year, the Himalayan Consensus Summit 2018 hosted a session called ‘Towards Air Connectivity’. The panel was comprised of professionals from the national airlines, as well as other domestic and international airlines. Speakers stressed the role of high-quality infrastructure, efficient airports and enhanced clean technology in expanding air connectivity in the country.  The event also stressed on the importance of the immediate construction of the new international airport in Southern Nepal, as it has the potential of becoming a new regional transit hub in the South Asian region.  Speakers also talked about how, to expand our tourism reach, our national carrier airlines needs support and incentive from the Nepali government, so it can expand its network to cities in the US, Europe and Japan. There is also a dire need of alternative international airports as the rise in inflow of tourists has led to increased air traffic at the Tribhuvan International Airport.
In order to achieve the two-million target, it is crucial that Nepal promotes tourism at the provincial level. Recently, on the occasion of Nepali New Year 2075, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli declared Karnali-Rara Tourism Year 2075 in Karnali Province, an area which includes Rara Lake, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the western part of Nepal. Other provinces too should follow the footsteps of Karnali Province by promoting at least one tourist destination in their region. This will naturally increase  the inflow of tourists and add to revenue generation of the provinces. 
Nepal Rastra Bank has recently opened the gates for tourism businesses to acquire loans (with no fixed ceiling, as of yet) in convertible foreign currency from Bank and Financial Institutions (BFIs). To aid tourism entrepreneurs to invest and create more jobs in the sector, BFIs should also come up with lending packages and schemes. If tourism entrepreneurs and businesses can leverage this opportunity, and upgrade their mediocre services to world-class services, then the tourism sector will definitely see a boost.
Meanwhile, while  we are vaingloriously promoting Nepal with ‘Buddha was born in Nepal’ taglines in grand summits like BIMSTEC, the roads that lead to UNESCO-listed world heritage sites like Swayambhunath and Boudha remain in a sorry state. The annual fiscal budget allocates Rs5.20 billion ($48.94 million) for the development of the tourism sector, but little focus goes on where this budget is spent. Infrastructure is perhaps the most important, yet overlooked, aspect. In order to improve the flow of tourists into the country, special attention must be given to infrastructure. 
A few months ago, I, along with my friends, walked the Annapurna Circuit Trek, one of the most challenging circuits in the world. While on the trek, we met a young, amicable German lad, who  joined our group. Along the trail, he ran out of the money. He couldn’t even withdraw money from an ATM machine in Jomsom, which is one of the few places where you will find an ATM machine on the trail, due to some technical problem. He therefore hesitated to go to Ghorepani and Poonhill. We convinced him to go by lending him some money to continue the journey. In this way, we helped an unknown stranger explore many unexplored areas. During our daunting trek, he told us how much he admired the tagline of Nepal Tourism Board:Nepal, Once is not enough. And that he would definitely be returning. 
Conquering the Annapurna  Circuit made me realise how important domestic tourism is for revenue generation, and that we should leave no stone unturned to ensure the safety, reliability and regularity of services to tourists.
Published: 2018-09-09 07:54:03