- The Nepal Tourism Board should take lead to stop discrimination against local tourists trekking within the country
May 26, 2014-
On the Nepal Tourism Board’s (NTB) website are many boxes and links filled with information. Sadly, it looks as though all information is for foreign nationals only.
Despite claims of an increased number of domestic tourists by national newspapers and the NTB itself, no authentic data is available. This should come as no surprise given our sole focus on foreign tourists. So much so that, if one visits the websites of domestic airlines to check for fares, they are all in US dollars—except for Buddha Airlines, which unfortunately does not cover all domestic airports. In the bid to go international and attract international tourists, the tourism industry in the country seems to have completely forgotten about its own nationals.
Nepalis travelling abroad often come back with the tales of discrimination they faced in other countries. Many are subject to similar discrimination even when they are travelling, especially while on treks, within the country itself. Nepalis are seemingly not eligible for first-come-first-serve and are often placed last on the list of preferences by any hotel. At times, domestic flights prefer to fly with seats separated for international fares rather than carry Nepalis. Domestic travellers are even refused travel by tourist vehicles at times because of the syndicate system. While the notion of Athithi deva bhawa (Guests are gods) has its virtues, snubbing domestic travellers is unjustified.
On the onset, one would think that such discrimination exists because domestic travellers do not pay as much as foreigners. But that is only half the truth. Nepali tourists seldom bargain like their foreign counterparts. On each of my treks to various destinations, I have observed extremely fussy foreigners complaining about costs even as domestic tourists happily pay for whatever they consume, often without thinking of the price. This is not to say that Nepali hosts along trekking routes are not welcoming to Nepali tourists; neither is it my intention to compare the spending habits of Nepalis and international tourists. My primary concern here is the discriminatory behaviour domestic tourists face in their own country.
That the Nepali tourism industry prefers foreigners to Nepalis is well known. It is also understandable as tourism is crucial to Nepal’s economy. Nevertheless, it is hurtful to be discriminated against in one’s own land. Don’t Nepali youths have a right to know their country, to plan their treks and be informed respectfully? As locals, we Nepalis seldom hire trekking guides but when we do, we also treat (both morally and financially) them well.
Therefore, depriving Nepali travellers of proper facilities while they are travelling, particularly trekking, raises serious concerns. Foreigners enjoy the warmth of a fire in a lodge only because they pay in dollars while Nepalis get an inferior space because they are paying in Nepali rupees. The experience is even worse while travelling with a foreign friend and sharing the cost. Even when you are paying half of the charged international cost, from the taxi fare to room charges, you seldom get the same attention as the foreign friend. Worst of all, people think that it is your foreign friend who is bearing all your costs. A figment of our donor-driven mentality, I suppose.
So how about giving more respect to local tourists? The rise in domestic tourism has undoubtedly given a boost to total spending in the tourism sector and has resulted in job growth. However, one of the reasons growth has not been as expected is the undue preference for international tourists as opposed to domestic ones. So in order to increase the gains from tourism and promote this new interest among the young to explore the country looking for adventure, it is important to do away with existing discriminatory attitudes. The bid to treat domestic tourists right should start at the top, with the Tourism Board, and only then can it trickle down to proprietors in the tourism business.
- GITTA SHRESTHA
Shrestha is a researcher at Nepal Centre for Contemporary Research
Published: 27-06-2014 13:34