At a time when the country's sole international airport is undergoing a major refurbishment, an umbrella organisation representing Nepali tour operators has submitted a list of areas needing improvement.

An observation note signed off by Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO) President Ashok Pokharel was submitted to the general manager of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) around a month ago, in which the association has primarily stressed on the need for service overhaul.

"When we were invited for a tour of the TIA a month ago, we witnessed massive changes in the infrastructure, but the service quality and modality still left much to be desired," he said.

Towards the departure area, NATO has emphasised on the need to instal technology-friendly services at TIA for convenience of passengers.

NATO has suggested that instead of having a policeman attempt to physically read every passenger's ticket and passport, a scanning system must be introduced with automatic turnstiles to admit genuine passengers into the airport quickly and securely. The policeman scanning boarding cards must be replaced with an automated scanner and turnstile, reads the NATO note.

NATO has further mentioned that duty-free shopping must be re-introduced to allow passengers an international experience and to promote locallyas well as internationally-made branded goods.

NATO President Pokharel further said that other complaints like expensive food items need to be addressed.

The NATO letter has also suggested the airport to adopt partnership-based business model.

Similarly, towards arrivals, NATO has suggested that the airport authority needs to work with the Department of Immigration to ensure a quicker moving visa acquisition and immigration process.

Similarly, it said that the gold/ silver 'Metal Check' queue should be done away with at the lower level.

NATO has also suggested improving basic services like toilets, pointed at lack of emergency exits, use of wood panelling that could be a fire hazard, inadequate escalators, lifts and other facilities for movement of passengers and baggage in the new concourse.

According to Pokharel, all the issues highlighted can easily be addressed by introducing easily available technology, industrial engineering solutions, rearrangement of passenger flows or in some cases more expensive construction to achieve an overall satisfactory passengers' experience.

On this issue, TIA General Manager Pratap Babu Tiwari said that the TIA management is working to gradually address all the issues raised by tourism stakeholders. "TIA's renovation work is going on at a large scale," he said, adding, "Authorities are holding discussions to ensure a pleasurable experience for all TIA passengers."

Meanwhile, Spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) Raj Kumar Chhetri said that regarding technology-friendly airport service, CAAN cannot be held solely responsible. "There are several bodies at the airport that operate jointly. So, all the bodies have to take the initiative," he said, "While there is no immediate plan to implement any technology-related change, we are gradually improving TIA services."

Amid this, other tourism-related private sector representatives said that they are quite satisfied with the new changes at the TIA 'although there are areas that need to be improved'.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 2, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.