No country for local travellers?

Majority of local tourists came back dismayed at the sad state of affairs for local travellers in most tourist destinations in Nepal

Kathmandu

The tourism sector in Nepal is booming with the encouraging inflow of external tourists during the peak season (October to November) as well as with the active participation of domestic tourists throughout the year. There is no doubt that domestic tourism plays a pivotal role in the expansion of Nepali tourism scene but the prejudice against domestic tourists and the surfacing of stories and instances of ill-treatment of local tourists may not work in favour of the long-term success of the tourism industry of Nepal.

Most Nepalis enjoyed a 10-15-day Dashain holiday in October and more than some made plans to make the best of this once-in-a-year break and head out to explore their country. However, majority of these travellers came back dismayed at the sad state of affairs for local travellers in most tourist destinations in Nepal. It goes without saying that priority has always been given to foreign travellers by tourism entrepreneurs even in far-flung destinations in Nepal. This can be attributed to the notion that foreign travellers come equipped with more spending power than their Nepali counterparts. The stakeholders of this industry must work towards busting this myth because times are a changing and Nepal too has witnessed a growth in spending power of its citizens.

The tourism industry must cater to the needs and demands of domestic tourists and encourage them to explore their country more. However, before they embark on this mission, they must acknowledge the lack of tourism literacy and awareness among Nepali travellers because the unpreparedness on the part of Nepali travellers visiting local destinations makes things difficult for tourism entrepreneurs as well. The stakeholders involved in the tourism sector should communicate with domestic tourists to improve tourism literacy and familiarise them with the necessary plans required for any touristic purposes. With such initiation along with excellent hospitality, the tourism sector in Nepal will surely become more vibrant and self-reliant.

Unfair prejudices

Just like in the past years, this year too saw enthusiastic Nepalis packing their bags and heading out to tourist destinations all over Nepal instead of opting to go on a vacation abroad. However, the rapid movement of domestic tourists within the country has also brought out some serious issues on the surface. The ill-treatment and poor hospitality, negative perception towards domestic tourists and unfair priority given to foreign visitors have been reported widely on social media circles.

Rishab Adhikari, a travel photographer who often visits destinations within Nepal had one of the worst experiences in his recent trip to Manaslu circuit. He shares, “We had been travelling on the circuit and stopped at Dharmasala for breakfast but surprisingly we were denied basic services just because we were Nepalis even after we agreed to pay the rate fixed for foreigners. Next, we had stopped at Chaurikharka for lunch and we were served with stale food and when we complained, the hotel owner bluntly stated that only foreign tourists are served with fresh food whereas Nepalis have to manage with leftovers from day before.”

Adhikari’s experience clearly exhibits that the tourism entrepreneurs have not wholeheartedly embraced domestic tourists and there are still reservations while extending services to local tourists. He explains, “In some places the hoteliers have very conservative mindset towards Nepali tourists. They just assume that Nepali visitors cannot pay the rate on the menu and aren’t hospitable with their services. As a result, we are ill treated and humiliated as tourists in our own country. “

Dilasa Shrestha, a resident of Kathmandu who recently trekked to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) with her team shares that there are certain reservations on the part of hoteliers when it comes to local tourists. Shrestha’s annoyance is based on the bias she and her team faced on their trek to ABC in September. She says, “We had travelled before the onset of the peak season, so we didn’t have any problem finding accommodation but we could sense that the locals and tourism entrepreneurs were not that welcoming towards Nepalis and were only enthusiastic about foreign travellers.” She further shares, “On one instance, we had politely asked a group of foreign travellers to turn down their loud music and they obliged but the hotel owner was really furious with us for disturbing his “guests”. We were treated like a second-class tourists and our comfort wasn’t taken into consideration.”

Besides these instances, many travellers who had been to popular destinations like Manang and Mustang also had complains that they didn’t find any rooms in hotels and had to spend the night in the kitchens with other fellow Nepalis. Akash Gurung, who travelled to Manang during his Dashain vacation, shares his experience, “I could not find a single room when I reached Manang. All the hotels were packed with foreigners and I had to spend the night at a

store room along with other Nepali travellers.”

Plan before you travel 

However, it is also important to note that adequate preparedness and pre-planning also plays a major role in the success of a trip. Tourism entrepreneurs and hoteliers firmly believe that Nepalis often make their plans in haste and head to popular destinations without proper plans in place. Stressing that Nepali travellers lack the necessary skills to properly map their travelling plans, Binod Gurung, Proprietor of Hotel Yeti and President of Tourism Traders’ Association (TTA), Manang, shares, “Nepali travellers do not get rooms in hotel during the peak season because the rooms are already booked for foreign tourists through travel agents four or five months before the season starts. So, it is impossible for hoteliers to manage proper rooms for Nepalis without prior reservation. When the place is too crowded, we often accommodate them in kitchens, store rooms and any other vacant space available in our facilities.”

Meanwhile, the fact that Nepal has not been able to market domestic tourism properly also contributes in the unfortunate experience of travellers. While majority of foreigners visit destinations in Nepal via packages offered by travel agencies and other platforms, the tourism industry has failed to deliver attractive packages to lure in local tourists. As a result, travelling and touring has not been installed as habitual practice for Nepali tourists.

Tripple Gurung, Owner of Om’s Home at Jomsom shares, “Majority of domestic tourists in our country visit popular destinations in peak season without plans because they do not have much experience in travelling. As a result, they do not get rooms and other services which are reserved for guests who have prior bookings.” He further adds, “Nowadays, there is a trend among Nepali travellers to pack their bags and head to popular destinations like Manang, Mustang and Rara during Dashain vacation when there is a rapid inflow of foreign travellers. I urge every domestic tourist to plan their visit within Nepal only after choosing a suitable time period and work out all reservations and such prior to embarking on their journeys.”

Develop positive perception

Another problem that requires proper attention is the negative outlook towards local tourists. There is a general tendency among the stakeholders in the tourism sector to prioritise foreign travellers and put domestic tourists in second place. From the very beginning, Nepal has been mainly targeting foreign tourists and neglecting the prospects of domestic tourism. This has resulted in a notion that only external tourist are the “real” tourists who require unmatchable services, excellent hospitality and generous reception. Bijay Amatya, Chief Executive Officer at Kora Tours says, “The natives in tourist centres must present their hospitality in a polished manner and should not engage in constant bargaining. They ought to develop good packages for domestic tourists as well.” He further adds, “It will take some time but gradually the entrepreneurs will change their attitude towards domestic tourists once they realise the financial prospects of domestic tourism. So, progress of domestic tourism will automatically force the natives in local destinations to improve their reception of domestic visitors.”

It is true that the scenario is rapidly changing and the number of domestic tourists visiting different parts of the country is increasing year by year. With the active anticipation of growth in domestic tourism, the Nepali tourism sector must widen its horizon and upgrade its perspective towards Nepali visitors. Gurung shares, “Hoteliers in rural tourist centres and trek routes are only familiar with foreign visitors and have very limited experience of dealing with domestic tourists. However, the context is changing and the hoteliers will gradually adapt themselves to properly deal with domestic tourists too. We are putting our best efforts to inform tourism entrepreneurs about the changing pace of domestic tourism and its significance.”

What’s to be done

The different stakeholders involved in tourism sector must come together to tackle the problem of bias against Nepali tourists and ensure favourable environment for the smooth movement of Nepali tourists within Nepal.  Reportedly, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has been providing regular training to top hoteliers and tourism entrepreneurs outside of Kathmandu. Sarad Pradhan, Media Consultant at NTB shares, “NTB is aware of the ill-treatment of domestic tourists and we have been providing regular training to address such issues and upgrade the status of domestic tourism in Nepal.” Furthermore, NTB should also engage in dialogue with Department of Tourism and other stake holders to come up with proper plans to change the mindset of tourism entrepreneurs and also increase touristic practices and tourism literacy to make sure that few instances of unfair treatments against Nepali tourist does not weigh down the ever-expanding domestic tourism industry.