Photo: THT
Kathmandu The year 2018 reigned in positives for Nepali tourism, as the sector witnessed considerable increase in the number of visitors to the country. According to the National Tourism Board (NTB), the total number of foreign tourists visiting Nepal in 2017 stood at 940,218 and the number reached to 1,173,072 in 2018. Similarly, the total tourist arrivals in January 2018 was 73,178 while it was 91,703 in January this year with 25.4 per cent growth rate. Likewise, In February 2018, the total arrival was 89,507 while it was 124,421 this February. Nepal earned Rs 67.09 billion in foreign exchange from tourism in the fiscal year 2017-18, 14.6 per cent up from Rs 58.52 billion in 2016-17. Although the recent growth in the tourism sector seems to be encouraging, a lot more needs to be done by the authorities concerned to tap into the full potential of the sector and meet the objectives of the much-hyped Visit Nepal 2020 project. PROGRESSIVE VISION In order to boost tourism in the country, the NTB introduced Visit Nepal 2020 project in the year 2015. Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO at NTB, says, “We crossed the one million tourist arrival mark last year for the first time in the country’s history and the number is set to reach two million next year.” According to Joshi, the NTB has also identified 100 new tourist destinations such as Gorkha, Jhapa, Chitwan, Tanahun, Parbat among others across the country and is planning to develop them for meeting the Visit Nepal 2020 goal. “As these sites are spread across the country, it will be monumental for the growth of tourism sector as well as the country’s economic development,” he adds. According to Joshi, the slogan of Visit Nepal 2020 has been translated into 10 different languages including Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, and Arabic in order to promote tourism in different countries through mega-media campaigns. This year, the NTB plans to train around 10,000 people in the tourism sector to enhance the quality of service for tourists. DRAWING VISITORS Although foreign tourists visit Nepal from different countries around the world, India and China account for the majority of visitors. According to NTB, a total of 160,268 Indian tourists and 104,664 Chinese tourists visited Nepal in 2017. In 2018, the number of Indian tourists surged to 200,438 and that of the Chinese tourists reached 153,602. Ghanashyam Upadhyaya, Spokesperson at Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, says, “We have introduced the Neighbour-First Policy, in which expert teams have been sent to India and China to promote tourism programmes aiming at the Visit Nepal 2020 project. We have also waived visa fees for Chinese nationals from 2016, which has helped surge their numbers in the country.” According to him, the Ministry has been conducting ideas exchange programmes among tourist entrepreneurs and experts of Nepal and China for the promotion of tourism in the country. Similarly, the tourist arrivals from top sources namely USA, Sri Lanka and the UK are also on the rise. As per NTB, in 2017, the total number of tourists’ arrival was 79,146 from USA, 45,361 from Sri Lanka, and 54,564 from the UK. The numbers increased to 91,785 (USA), 70,610 (Sri Lanka) and 63,086 (UK) in 2018. “As the Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa is expected to be completed within 2019 and the upgrade work at Tribhuvan International Airport will complete very soon, we expect the numbers to rise more in the coming years,” claims Upadhyaya. “Many foreigners view Nepal only as a mountainous country and come here for trekking and sightseeing purposes. However, this time we are prioritising cultural tourism and have planned to promote places such as Lumbini, Muktinath, Swargadwari, Janakpur, Khaptad, et cetera,” says Joshi. “Meanwhile we are working to upgrade more domestic airports this year. We will also be operating several night flights from domestic airports. Similarly the reconstruction of major heritage sites is expected to be completed by the year-end which will draw more tourists to the country,” he claims. PROMOTIONAL ACTIVITIES “NTB participated in the fourday Tourism Expo event in Japan in September last year where we showcased several tourist destinations on Nepal. If we can attract Japanese tourists, it will be beneficial to us as they have a higher spending capacity. We will again participate in the next tourism Expo in Japan this year in October which will be very fruitful in meeting our goals,” says Joshi. Joshi adds, “We have also planned to promote around 100 new tourist destinations with at least 10 new destinations in each province. New hotels are also being launched this year for increasing accommodation facilities for tourists in 2020. We will also host the Himalayan Travel Mart in Kathmandu in June this year to attract more tourists from UK for 2020.” According to him, the government has endorsed a budget of Rs 100 million for the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign. Anil Lama, President at Society of Travel and Tour Operators Nepal (SOTTO), says, “Not only big hotels, but even homestay facilitates in villages with 15-20 room hotels have flourished in recent times. With the country already in the federal system, the provincial and local levels should now prioritise tourism by developing the needed infrastructure in their areas which can be excellent for tourism.” Similarly, Amarman Shakya, President at Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), says, “We have accommodation facilities for 25 lakh tourists currently and some 4,000 to 5,000 rooms will be added by the year 2020 so accommodation won’t be a problem.” EXISTING CHALLENGES “Nepal’s tourism policy is not relevant with the growing trend worldwide. Hence, we need to explore other types of tourism such as volunteer tourism, sports tourism, shopping tourism, gastronomic tourism, among others. Along with policy reforms, we have been pitching for human capital and product development in the country to attract more tourists in the coming years,” adds Shakya. As per Lama, the NTB only focusses on promotional activities for tourism but their actual execution has been lacking. The NTB participated in the World Travel Market (WTM) in London last year to promote tourism abroad but no new travel programmes were introduced to draw tourists to Nepal. “Destination marketing strategies should be formulated according to target groups, interest, age, et cetera. However, many beautiful places like Kanyam, Ilam, Pathibhara, Khaptad, et cetera are not well promoted and enough hotels can’t be made there due to poor roadways. Hence promotion of these places will be monumental to give tourists some fresh retreat sites, boosting tourism,” adds Lama. REQUIRED PLANNING “A tourist spends $57 to $65 per day on average in the country, which could be increased by extending their stay here,” claims Shakya, further stating, “New hotels and resorts have been opened in many parts of the country which is a good sign for tourism sector of Nepal. More foreign investment is needed in this sector and a one-door policy is needed to ease the process of investing.” According to him, only marketing is not enough and the country should try to attract more tourists to visit the country. “As the country now has a stable government, it is good for development works to be carried out. However, the authorities concerned should work hard to upgrade existing roads and develop newer road connectivity at the earliest, keeping the Visit Nepal 2020 project in mind,” says Lama.