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
The prospects of domestic tourism in Nepal largely depend on the physical attraction of the destinations. The Nepali tourists are in great advantage as they have a variety of choices ranging from pilgrimage destination, wildlife destination, trekking destinations to holiday destination. There are plethoras of activities like mountain climbing, rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, bungee jumping, mountain biking for Nepali travellers who are enthusiastic about adventure tourism.
In order to uplift the sinking tourism industry, the government had declared the year 2073 as the Nepal Travel Year to promote domestic tourism. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) had allocated Rs 2 million for executing promotional activities. Speaking with THT Perspectives, Deepak Raj Joshi, Chief Executive Office at NTB shares, “Last year, there was an exponential growth in the domestic tourism sector as around 4.5 million internal tourist visited different parts of the country. We are hopeful that this year, more number of domestic tourists will visit different parts of Nepal.” He further adds, “For the development of domestic tourism, NTB is currently continuing the last year’s Travel Nepal programmes and we have also added other programmes such as Photo Nepal for advocating Nepali tourism through photography, Safa Nepal to promote cleanliness around heritage sites and Chulo Nepal to promote Nepali food along with food hygiene.”NTB is also running programs to support home stay services through market linkage, capacity building and other training schemes.
Tourism is a people business and the involvement of local community in tourism sector makes the community more sustainable and also strengthens the sense of ownership. Majority of the tourist hotspots in Nepal lies in rural vicinity where people have gradually adopted professionalism in their business to adhere to the growing need of tourism. Stressing that domestic tourism holds a promising future for Nepal, Bijaya Amatya, President of Kora Tours shares, “The involvement of youths in adventure tourism is very positive for the industry. However, we need to work on new destinations for adventure tourism. It is not feasible to rely on the old form of adventure sport.” Amatya is of the opinion that in the initial phase, the tourism in rural areas must rely on the involvement of local communities.
Domestic tourism in Nepal is mainly reliant upon seasonal trends. Majority of Nepalis pack their bags and head for tourists hotspots like Manang, Mustang, Rara Lake, Ghandruk et cetera only during peak season. As a result, the tourism entrepreneurs and investors in these places find it difficult to safeguard their investment and effort only through tourism.
Therefore, the notion of tourism based economy is not a reality for these localities.
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.
A version of this article appears in print on October 08, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.