Two-day weekend would be effective in promoting domestic tourism
Nepal Tourism Board, which was established in 1998 with the objective of promoting Nepal’s tourism, had remained rudderless since October 2011, when tenure of then CEO, Prachanda Man Shrestha, expired. Although the gap was filled by appointing an acting CEO, he later had to step down after facing corruption charges. Since then Nepal’s tourism sector has braced earthquakes of April and May and is currently
reeling under supply disruptions created by protests in Tarai and blockade on Nepal-India border points. Amidst this situation, the government has appointed Deepak Raj Joshi as CEO of NTB. Rupak D Sharma of The Himalayan Times caught up with Joshi to discuss his plans and strategies for promotion of the tourism sector.
You have just been appointed as the CEO of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). What strategies are you planning to adopt to promote Nepal’s tourism?
We were receiving around 800,000 foreign tourists in 2012, 2013 and 2014. But the number of tourist arrivals has dropped drastically since the earthquakes of April and May. This has affected tourism businesses, those working in the sector and the image of the country as a tourist destination. Then promulgation of the new constitution generated hopes for a better future. Many were convinced that the country would now be able to focus on development agendas and tourism sector would get priority. Instead, protests intensified in the Tarai which has now created supply disruption. This has further hit the tourism sector. So, confidence among stakeholders of the tourism sector is very low at the moment. The biggest challenge now is to restore this confidence. For this, I have devised some strategies and plans.
Could you please share what those strategies and plans are?
Until a few months ago, we were talking about revival of the tourism sector. But with the change in the situation many have started raising questions on the survival of this business. So, my priority in 2016 would be to keep the tourism sector afloat by attracting at least 800,000 foreign tourists. Also, whenever crisis has struck Nepal, domestic tourists have helped us keep the sector afloat. So, I’m planning to devise some strategies to promote domestic tourism as well. I know there has been some negative publicity in the Indian media about Nepal because of the ongoing crisis. But I don’t think the crisis will prolong. So, we’ll soon be launching a campaign to restore the flow of Indian tourists. Lately, Chinese tourists have also started showing lots of interest in Nepal. We will be focusing on that market and others in Asia, such as Japan, South Korea and countries in Southeast Asia.
You are not new to NTB and have served it for over a decade. Where do you think is the country lagging in terms of promoting tourism?
Tourism is a sector where innovation and creativity play key roles. I think we are lagging behind in this aspect. At the same time, we also have limited resources. Also, NTB couldn’t hire a full-time CEO for quite a long time (after expiry of tenure of Prachanda Man Shrestha in 2011). This also created hurdles. However, if we can work a little more creatively, we can definitely promote Nepal’s tourism in a better way. For instance, social media has lately emerged as an important marketing tool. This tool allows one to promote tourism destinations at a low cost. An even more attractive feature of this tool is that it allows one to measure the impact of our campaigns. So, I’m planning to make maximum use of this tool. I also want to establish partnerships with different bodies and sectors, such as Non-Resident Nepali (NRN) Association, to jointly promote tourism abroad. In this regard, I’ve already started talking to NRNs located in key source countries. We will also rope in diplomatic missions and Nepal’s well-wishers while organising promotional campaigns.
Nepal’s overseas tourism promotion activities are generally carried out in a very small scale, which go unnoticed most of the time. Is this one of the reasons why country has been failing to attract greater number of foreign tourists?
Tourism is a business and the way we present ourselves makes a lot of difference. So, like you said we have to present ourselves in a unique manner if we want to draw attention of a greater mass. We will definitely focus on this as well.
Priorities of tourists differ from one country to another. For instance, priority of Chinese tourists may be different from those of Europe or North America. But it appears Nepal has not been able to offer a diverse range of tourism products to suit the needs of different kinds of tourists, isn’t it?
Market intelligence definitely helps one to make smart decisions. This provides information on emerging trends in the travel trade sector. Millennials — those born in 1980s or 1990s — for instance, are digitally connected people and are more independent kind of travellers. Today, 31 per cent of Chinese population comprises millennials. If we can attract this group now, they will continue to consume our services for a long time. So, we may have to tailor different promotional campaigns for this group and focus on digital marketing. Also, we have to develop tourist-friendly apps that not only provide directions but highlight our products. We will focus on these areas. In addition, we have to raise the quality of food products and other services, for which trainings are necessary. We will focus on this area as well.
Nepal also has not been able to diversify tourist destinations. For years, the country has only been selling Everest region and Annapurna trekking circuit. What is your take on this issue?
What you said is true. We have been selling the same products for decades. So, we need to be more innovative. There are many areas in the eastern and western parts of the country that could attract foreign tourists. These places also have a big depository of interesting stories that can appeal to foreign visitors. But we haven’t been able to tap these potentials. To deal with this issue, we have to create attractive packages and repackage the existing ones. Also, we have to create market linkages. For instance, foreign tourists, who wish to visit Bardiya or Suklaphanta national parks in the country’s western part, need not land in Kathmandu. These destinations are located around 350 kilometres away from New Delhi — which has now become a regional aviation hub due to its new airport. So, tourists, including those of New Delhi, can arrive at these locations straight from the Indian capital after a six-hour drive. We can promote destinations in the eastern part of the country in a similar manner. This way we can promote new destinations and multiply the number of foreign tourists visiting Nepal. Another problem here is that we have rarely taken a planned approach to attract tourists. In most of the cases, we have only accommodated tourists who reached the destinations. That’s how our tourism sector is growing. But lately the government has realised tourism’s potential in maximising income. So, I am hopeful of better days for the sector.
But against the backdrop, where the capacity of the only international airport cannot be expanded and building new international airports is expected to take some more years, how are you planning to expand the tourism sector?
The biggest bottleneck in attracting tourists is lack of international airports. This has limited the flow of foreign tourists to Nepal. But lately we have started promoting Nepal as a destination which can be visited any time of the year. So, we will now have to attract tourists during off-seasons by extending discounts. But for rapid growth of the tourism sector we have to build new airports as the only international airport has limited capacity.
And how do you intend to promote domestic tourism?
Introduction of two-day weekend system would be very effective in promoting domestic tourism. This would also reduce government’s energy and fuel bills. I am planning to table this proposal soon. So, let’s hope for a positive result. Also, we’ll have to launch campaigns to promote domestic tourism. There are specific periods when flow of domestic tourists grows. For instance, domestic tourism grows during New Year, Dashain-Tihar festival and school vacations. So, our strategies will focus on increasing flow of domestic tourists during these periods.
Lastly, would you like to add anything?
Well, tourism is a business so it is not possible to promote tourism in every part of the country. It grows in areas that have potential and where modest return is guaranteed. Currently, we are receiving only around 800,000 foreign tourists per year. So, it is impossible to take these tourists to every corner of the country. Various stakeholders need to understand this. However, benefits derived from incoming tourists can help the country to pursue its development endeavours.