Stakeholders demand serious tourism recovery plan
In the aftermath of the disaster the tourism industry has been dealt a severe blow but is stumbling back to its feet. To revive the tourism industry, tourism entrepreneurs and stakeholders are conducting a series of programmes and familiarisation trips to Nepal to promote the country's tourism and to spread the message of Nepal being safe for travel.
To achieve this goal, major stakeholders of the industry; Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA), Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), Nepal Association of Tour
Operators (NATO), Hotel Association Nepal (HAN) and the government are joining hands.
“We are initiating familiarisation trips with different countries and international tour operators. This is the only and the best way to promote Nepal in the international market,” says Ramesh Kumar Adhikari, Administrative Head of NTB. In the backdrop is the fact that a majority of Nepal’s tourist destinations such as Pokhara, Chitwan, Annapurna, Lumbini and Bardia, as well as the east, west, mid-west and far-west regions of Nepal, have not been affected by the earthquake, Adhikari says, “There is still hope aplenty to boost the tourism sector this upcoming tourist season starting October.”
Reportedly, Nepal has witnessed minimal tourism infrastructure damage with almost 90 per cent of hotels in Kathmandu operational; there is no scarcity of food and water and all forms of communication are in working order. Also, almost all major highways witnessed minimal damages except the one that runs towards the Tibetan border of Kodari. As per Adhikari, NTB is currently focused on building travelers’ confidence with the help of media campaigns; sales and promotion programmes in India and China; implementing the tourism recovery plan with PATA; and generating celebrity endorsements about traveling to Nepal. In effect, the International Conference on Nepal Reconstruction which was held on June 25, 2015 witnessed participation of many influential foreign diplomats which further sent a message that Nepal is now ready for tourism.
Flow of information
Reportedly, news disseminated post April 25 earthquake in the international media and the news wire
has led tourists to believe that Nepal is badly destroyed and not safe to visit. Tourism entrepreneurs and stakeholders opine that the national travel advisories of different countries also need to be handled in a diplomatic way by the government.
“This is the opportune time to implement business to business tourism in the context of Nepal after
disaster,” says Ashok Pokharel, President of NATO. According to him, to claim that the country is safe for travel now does not make sense at the moment, he says, “We should prepare ourselves better for the coming season before disseminating such information.”
“We are in discussion with international tour operators and have invited them to visit Nepal.This will give them firsthand information on the status of tourism in Nepal,” Pokharel elaborates. In the same vein, DB Limbu, President of NATTA, believes that Nepal should organise jumbo familiarisation trips for foreign diplomats, and international media houses like CNN and BBC. He says, “Nepal should also promote special highlights with facts that assures the international community that Nepal is still beautiful and there are many safe places to visit."
PATA has taken the initiative on the tourism recovery plan titled ‘Bouncing Back Better’ by forming a Tourism Recovery Committee. “We have made a strategy based on analysis and expert opinions on ways to recover tourism in the country,” says Suman Pandey, Chairman of PATA Nepal. Informing that they have handed over the PATA Nepal Rapid Recovery Taskforce to tourism stakeholders, he says, “Tourism can be promoted further on a global platform via social networking sites. If everything goes as per strategy with new plans and promotions, we can expect upto 40,000 tourist arrivals in Nepal by the next fiscal.”
To promote tourism better, it is necessary to fine tune the recovery campaigns before the tourist season starts in October. “Three months until October is the crucial phase for the planning and execution of the short term recovery plans,” says Pokharel. He further says that tourism entrepreneurs should focus on ground level visibility of travel destinations. “If we are able to promote our destinations properly the travel advisories issued will not have much adverse effect on the tourism business,” he shares.
Tourism entrepreneurs believe that they are expecting 70 per cent reduction in business during October to May season. However, Pokharel says that reduction of tourist inflow can be minimised to 50 per cent with the right flow of information and campaigns.
According to HAN, the hotel occupancy rate has dipped by 15 per cent as compared to the last year. The hotel occupancy rate this year is limited to 35 per cent while it was recorded to 50 per cent last year in the same corresponding month. The hotel business faced huge loss due to the earthquake and its aftermath. “Post-earthquake hotel occupancy suffered as most tourists were evacuated during the earthquake and its subsequent aftershocks,” says Pravesh Aryal, Executive Director of HAN. He
informs that HAN is also planning familiarisation trips to Nepal for international journalists from prominent media houses to improve tourism.
“As far as the travel advisory is concerned, it is to be handled by the government in discussion with diplomats and their international counterparts,” Aryal shares. He further emphasises that now it is time to use bilateral network with travel and tour operators to promote tourism through word of mouth
Can NTB deliver?
But perhaps that is easier said than done. While the tourism industry is making every effort to bridge the gaps and bring back tourists, NTB whose job is destination promotion is in itself in a sorry state and marred in controversies. With no leadership at NTB and the government yet to appoint people to senior positions, doubts exist about the promotional efforts. According to Limbu, they are lobbying with NTB for transparency in budget allocations and circulation of correct information. “There are no senior level executive board members after suspension on corruption charges by Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) in April to address these issues,” Limbu says. He further adds that the
election of the CEO of NTB has also been put on hold delaying the recovery process for the tourism sector.
Hotelier and former co-ordinator of Nepal Tousism year 2011, Yogendra Shakya, says that NTB has the sole responsibility of promoting tourism and appointment of CEO at NTB is the need of the hour. The government and the tourism stakeholders have formed a tourism promotion committee, that will be active and implementing promotional activities for revival of tourism post disaster. “Complete executive body and the CEO appointment is compulsory for tourism promotion,” says Shakya. Citing that NTB should be an autonomous body for proper functioning, he says, “There should not be any interference from the government bodies and political parties while making decisions
on promotion and development activities.”