Destination Nepal

With proper planning, investment and adequate infrastructure, domestic tourism can work wonders for the country

KATHMANDU: The arrival of tourism season (October–November) has once again created a buzz in the Nepali tourism sector. While many focus on the prospects of developing Nepal as a perfect tourist hub for the inflow of foreign visitors, it is equally important that domestic tourism is also given ample space to grow. Over the years, more resources have been allocated for external tourism and this form of prioritisation has led to the poor growth of domestic tourism in the country. As a result, there is an increment in outbound tourism as Nepali holidaymakers utilise the year’s longest holiday during the festive season by travelling to foreign destination such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and The Philippines which serves as the attractive destinations for Nepali middle-income tourists, while Dubai, Mauritius, Maldives and European cities are preferred by upper- income Nepali tourists.

This disposable income and increase in spending power of Nepalis if tapped into can create opportunities for growth of domestic tourism. However, this would be possible only if stakeholders in domestic tourism address variables like infrastructure, investment, marketing, promotion and disaster management that directly or indirectly affects the functioning and hampers the expansion of domestic tourism.

Prospects of domestic tourism

Binod Gurung, Proprietor of Hotel Yeti and President of Tourism Traders’ Association (TTA), Manang explains the flocking of domestic tourists during peak season, “Due to Dashain-Tihar vacation, there is an enormous inflow of Nepali tourists. As a matter of fact, Manang is currently crowded and we are facing problems in accommodating the arrivals. On average, we are receiving 400-500 domestic tourists per day.” He further informs, “80 per cent of Nepali tourists visit Manang with the purpose of visiting Tilicho Lake whereas only 20 per cent head for Jomsom and Muktinath.” Likewise, Rara Lake, situated in Mugu District has also seen increment in the numbers of visitors. According to Joshi, there is a tenfold increase in the number of domestic tourists visiting Rara Lake in comparison to previous years. The fact that Nepali tourism sector has not been able to build strong chain networks of several tourist destinations is also pushing back the growth of domestic tourism.

Room for improvements

Inadequate infrastructure, improper management of tourist destinations and lack of promotion are some of the major problems impinging the growth of domestic tourism. The fact that tourism destinations spread across the same region are not linked through road ways and visitors have to rely upon airways is a worrying factor that needs to be addressed. It is very difficult to implement a collective model for the development of tourism within a region due to poor transportation network. And the prevailing

scenario is limiting the growth of domestic tourism as only some parts of the country are attracting domestic tourists despite the fact that there are many destination spread across the country with strong potentiality.

Explaining the problem in the domestic tourism sectors, Amatya says, “It is difficult for someone from Kathmandu to visit Khaptad Area in the far western region due to irregular road network and expensive air fares. As a result, domestic tourism is limited in areas like Pokhara, Manang, Mustang, Lumbini, and Chitwan. So, infrastructure must be built across the country if we want to venture into new areas and engage people within the country for tourism purpose.”

Meanwhile, lack of promotion is another matter that needs to be resolved. Even though Nepal is promoted globally as a perfect gateway to experience the beauty of rich natural environment and cultural heritages, lack of promotion of tourist destinations within the country is indirectly forcing people to tour foreign destinations. Dilip Mainali, president of Chitwan Tourism Development Committee expresses, “NTB is only promoting Nepal in international platform. It must introduce programmes to promote domestic tourism within Nepal. Furthermore, NTB should also engage in dialogue with the private sector and allocate budget for programmes after discussions and consultation.”

Mainali also informs that around 35,000 domestic tourists visit Chitwan every year and the number can be increased through promotion and improvements in road networks.

The way ahead

Even though the tourism sector in Nepal hit the rock bottom due to 2015 earthquake, it managed to bounce back through meticulous planning, strong promotion and large investments. NTB, private sector, government authorities must exhibit the same spirit in order to promote domestic tourism.

It goes without saying that long-term investment in domestic tourism will also serve Nepali economy. The study by World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC) on the economic impact of travel and tourism in Nepal reveals that in 2016, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP was Rs 85.2 billion which is 3.6 per cent of the total GDP. Meanwhile, the same study shows that in 2016, the total contribution of travel and tourism in providing employment, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry was 6.4 per cent of total employment. The study clearly indicates that development in tourism sector paves the way for economic growth. It’s now time for Nepali tourism sector to come up with concrete plans and take charge of domestic tourism, and for Nepalis to explore the wonder their country has to offer.