Up and about

  • The Nepal Tourism Board will have to take well-planned measures to revive the tourism sector
- Sandeep Basnyat
Up and about

Jun 23, 2015-

The Tourism Recovery Action Plan prepared by the Tourism Ministry envisions a Tourism Recovery Committee to assess the damages caused by the April 25 earthquake and its aftershocks. Similarly, the plan emphasises on an integrated approach among several tourism promotion committees and offices along with the participation of Village Development Committees (VDCs) to revive the sliding tourism industry after the Great Quake. Certainly, the responses from the government and other concerned institutions are noteworthy. However, this is also a time to carefully identify our strategies and action plans while promptly responding to this chaotic, ongoing crisis. International experiences show that tourism recovery after a natural disaster has never been straightforward. Sometimes, it might take years to restore the tourism industry to pre-disaster levels. Therefore, it is necessary to adopt carefully planned counter measures to revitalise the industry. A few such measures are outlined below.

Crisis communication plan

Implementing a strategic crisis communication plan can help limit the damage from a crisis and allow tourism authorities to concentrate on dealing with the disaster at hand. Mass media such as television and newspapers reach a broad and diverse audience through its extensive communication channels and, therefore, has a potential to influence a wide range of people across the world. As has been seen, information provided through the media has helped mobilise global support for Nepal after the quake. However, failing realise an effective media communication plan in time may result in the propagation of unsolicited information. This could dissuade tourists from visiting Nepal.

The experience of Israel, which suffered a damaging effect on its tourism industry during the peak of its religious tourism season in 2000/2001; and Britain, which faced a similar situation during the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001 show that extensive media coverage of the disaster can over-generalise or exaggerate the extent of the disaster in the affected area and spread myths about health and safety.

And because tourists do not tend to thoroughly understand the reality behind the images delivered by the media, it is important to counter the negative images by providing timely information. This will help to make current and prospective visitors feel safe during the recovery period. The starting step, therefore, is to establish a mechanism to swiftly provide accurate, official information, including timely press releases and regular recovery updates, positive firsthand experiences and to engage in positive word-of-mouth publicity. For example, messages such as ‘Kyoto is OK’, ‘Turkey, the center of world history’ and ‘Tour Taiwan at ease’ circulated by the Japanese, Turkish and Taiwanese tourism authorities after the earthquakes in Japan, Turkey and Taiwan in 1995 and 1999 respectively helped tourism bounce back in those countries.

Similarly, carrying out familiarisation trips to the earthquake-affected areas for the overseas media and major foreign tour wholesalers and organising travel, tourism and sports fairs can provide firsthand experience to the media persons as well as help in positive publicity.

Joint marketing plan

Joint marketing and promotion campaigns with air carriers and hotels can greatly help to reinvigorate tourism in Nepal. The Tourism Bureau of Taiwan’s marketing programme ‘Go, Taiwan’, which was carried out in cooperation with China Airlines and Japan Asia Airways, was one of the major contributors in attracting tourists in Taiwan after the earthquake.

Similar campaigns can be organised in cooperation with Nepal Airlines as well as the air carriers from the major tourist destinations, such as India, China, Japan and South Korea, to negotiate on price cuts, allow discount provisions for those taking a trip to Nepal and promote the country aggressively. Hotels in Pokhara have already started providing discounts to tourists and Nagarkot has followed suit. These hotels can also take additional steps like providing or mailing promotional offerings to their previous guests.

Chaos management plan

Tourism recovery after an earthquake requires the reconstruction of damaged infrastructure and the restoration of a positive destination image among potential visitors. Additionally, one might also have to rebuild the supply and distribution system (if it has been disrupted by the quake) and help out the vulnerable populace living in tourist areas.

Managing the existing crisis and organising additional programmes to lure tourists during the recovery stage are difficult tasks. But handling such difficult situations is also an important part of public and private sector management, which applies for the tourism sector as well.

At this difficult hour, the Nepal Tourism Board, as a national tourism organisation, has an important role to play in travel and tourism crisis management, in both representing and acting on behalf of the industry as a whole. For example, throughout the crisis stage, the Board can reorganise or reconfigure the use of resources with the help of industry partners, tourism associations and local bodies. These financial and human resources can be used to provide services for the victims of disasters directly or indirectly related to the tourism sector.

Finally, when it comes to crisis and disaster response management, time is too limited for consensus-driven decision-making processes that can incorporate all concerned parties. Therefore, the Tourism Board needs to provide effective leadership and guidance in that direction.

Basnyat is a tourism researcher and a PhD student at the University of Otago, New Zealand

Published: 24-06-2015 08:17

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