Nepal | July 14, 2020

Opinion: Let’s focus on experience economy and aesthetic capitalism

We have not realised the importance of aesthetics in the economy.

Kavita Regmi
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Kathmandu, May 26

Let’s learn to give credit where it’s due. We have not realised the importance of aesthetics in the economy. As Amartya Sen points out, we’ve always been preoccupied with the doctrinaire view of how the economy works and how a country prospers, and we have been keeping a blind eye on other prospects of prosperity. If we are ever to prosper economically, we need to see a paradigm shift in our mentality.

The soil of Nepal is no less than the soil of Singapore, which once used to be a pirate port. This nation went from rags to riches. The world in the past did not accommodate so many rich countries. Affluent nations like Switzerland and Singapore used to be seriously poor and had to overcome major economic obstacles to make their place among the wealthiest nations.

If the stories of Singapore and Switzerland are too farfetched for us to relate, let’s just travel 27 kilometers away from us. In April 2020, Forbes ranked Bangladesh as the topmost country dependent on tourism, with it being able to create 9 jobs per tourist and 944 jobs per 100 tourists.

In March 2018, Bangladesh, one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, met the threshold for graduating from least developed country (LDC) status, marking a milestone in the nation’s development. It is the first-ever country to graduate based on meeting all three criteria in economic and human development, with significant progress made in areas such as sanitation, health and education. Their pharmaceuticals industry, communication infrastructure and apparel industry, which is second only to China’s, are the strong points of Bangladesh.

In the book “Asia’s economic miracle”, Jon Woronoff writes the story of five East Asian states. He concludes that the success of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore was not a result of a miracle but a series of well-thought of and well-executed plans and policies. Another success story, the Maldives, has used its sand, water and luxury resorts to attract tourists. With underwater resident resorts, serene beaches and private islands, the Maldives has been able to establish itself as a dream destination for many minted tourists.

Every country has its own unique bitter story of struggle, but afterward not every one of them has sweet stories of success. These stories provide us immense ideas and learnings so that we don’t have to start from scratch. We can rule out the non-viable economic development roadmaps.

Industrialisation and agriculture development are without any doubt essential for self-sufficiency and a stable economy, but they cannot preposition our status as an economically affluent country on the global map. Thus the model of experience economy makes an entrance because it has surpassed the manufacturing and service sectors. As soon as we admit the fact that there is an equivalent to a nonexistence opportunity for us to have a competitive advantage in the manufacturing and service sector, we can move ahead to aesthetic capitalism and experience economy. These are the areas where we can strike hard enough to never look back.

The Pine and Gilmore’s (1999) experience economy model described four stages of economic progression from commodities to goods to services and finally to experiences, with the last stage requiring businesses to create memorable experiences for customers. The model delineated four realms of consumer experience: educational, escapist, esthetic and entertainment experiences, which they have coined, the ‘4Es’. Staging – another important element in the experience economy – entails the execution of the 4Es in a comprehensive, thematic design that strengthens the customer’s experience.

The economic world relies on business norms. Our country’s economy should be viewed as a business that should generate higher living standards for its people as a profit. The country in itself needs to be viewed as a product that can be offered to the world. We have the history, the culture, the diversity, and the gift of the landscape from Mother Nature. We need to tailor them in the most fashionable and aesthetically pleasing way.

We might have to break some dogmatic norms, think a little out of the box, and execute some crazy ideas until the country is decorated with beautiful features. We need to work on the features of this product so that it will look lucrative to the world. We can choose what feature to be used to promote, but those features should be meticulously planned to make them enviable for the world.

Now that we have seven provinces, it is much easier to plan, implement and monitor. Each province can choose the feature they want to identify itself with. Let’s take for instance, Province 1 that has Everest, Kanchenjunga and Ama Dablam. It can pronounce itself as “The heaven of the Himalayas”.

Province 2 with Janakpurdham can identify itself as the “Pilgrimage of the Hindus”, an irreplaceable holy destination to attract Hindu pilgrims with special treatment and facilities targeting them. Bagmati Province can furnish Kathmandu as its “Historical boutique valley”, embodying the sculptures, arts, temples and durbars, museums, holy rivers and paintings, all portrayed in their elaborated immense glory.

Gandaki Province with so many tourist destinations like Pokhara, Manang and Mustang can promote itself as a “Garden of serene beauty”. Province 5 can promote Lumbini as the “Residence of the God” – the ultimate destination for Buddhists, attracting huge numbers of Buddhists from China and other countries. Karnali Pradesh, with its lakes like Shey Phoksundo lake, Rara lake and Karnali River, can promote itself as the “Land of lakes and rivers”.

Sudurpashchim Province can promote itself as offering “Authenticity of Rural taste” with Doti, Dailekh, Bajhang, and Bajura holding a captivating history and culture.

We have so much history to tell to the world. Instead of destroying our historical figures, let’s capitalise on them for our good. The temples, historical rivers, durbars and historical places will yield us gold coins only if we knew how to tell their stories. All we need to do is show some respect towards them and tell the story they have been wanting to tell in the most authentic tone to the world.

We need to admit that we as a society have always been reliant on dogmatic norms, holding onto these beliefs like they are our ultimate saviours. We have been acting in such a superficial and artificial way.

The world economy has shifted from commodity to goods to service to experience. But we are not preparing enough for the future. This might be one of the reasons we lag behind economically. The economic world does not appreciate dogmatic norms, rather it demands us to be innovative, pragmatic and always one step ahead of others in our thinking.

Regmi is with the Financial Comptroller General Office, Ministry of Finance

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