Promote investment in new tourism ventures
Bishwo S. Palikhe
Nepal ’s tourism industry has not grown as anticipated in the last six plus decades. We welcomed just a little more than one million foreign tourists last year. This accounts for an increase of only about 16,666 tourists annually. The growth rate is trivial. However, the country had only a handful of tourism entrepreneurs in the past. Their number has now increased significantly.
Pokhara top destination
About 30 per cent of the total tourists who visit Nepal go to Pokhara. Among destinations within the country, the beautiful city hosts the highest number of domestic tourists. More than 500,000 domestic tourists visit the Lake City every year. The credit for developing Pokhara as the most preferred destination among domestic tourists goes to the campaign initiated by local tourism entrepreneurs some 20 years ago. The much-needed initiative was taken at a time when the State was not paying any attention towards domestic tourism promotion. Had we not launched that campaign, the tourism industry in Pokhara would not have thrived in a sustainable manner. Currently, domestic tourism is being promoted across the nation.
Despite such a scenario, it is sad to note that the average length of stay of foreign tourists in Pokhara is very low. Their average stay stands at only 1.75 days. The government and the private sector need to spend about US$ 10 to attract one tourist into the country. For any destination to make more returns from tourism, tourists are required to stay there longer. Pokhara does not possess any man-made attractions such as theme parks and recreation centres. No local tourism entrepreneurs have so far realised the need to develop such products.
The government should encourage tourism entrepreneurs and other potential investors to go for new ventures. When more tourism products and services are available, it will be easier for us to attract more tourists and make them stay longer.
It is a good message that a regional international airport has been under construction in Pokhara. A Chinese construction company has been constructing the airport. The airport will come into operation in the near future. The Gandaki State government has also accorded high priority to the airport project. The authorities concerned now need to focus on promoting the airport internationally for its optimum utilisation.
Focus on China and India
As Nepal lies close to two Asian giants (China and India), the country’s tourism industry holds a bright future. This is an industry of hope. China is the world’s largest outbound tourism market. In 2018, nearly 150 million Chinese travellers visited overseas destinations. Of them, only 134,362 visited Nepal last year. With improved air connectivity between the two friendly nations, it has become easier for us to bring in more Chinese tourists. But we have to make additional efforts to tap the boundless Chinese market.
In the past, we failed to attract additional number of tourists from China due to lack of proper planning. We can bring in more and more tourists from the northern neighbour. For that, we should focus on promotion and publicity of our tourism resources in China. If we are able to offer services as per the interest of Chinese tourists, their number will go up significantly within a short period. This will definitely contribute to our economy considerably. The government and the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) must be ready to invest in tourism promotion. The nation will gain good return soon.
India is equally another important tourist source market for us. Although we have major pilgrimage sites like Pashupatinath, Muktinath, Janakpur and Lumbini, we have been unable to receive as many tourists as anticipated from the southern neighbour. One of the reasons for this is that we are still not so friendly to Indian tourists. As we have the tradition of regarding a guest as god, we must be ready to heartily welcome all the tourists.
Normally, Indians come to Nepal from May to July in order to evade the scorching heat. Since it is hot in Janakpur, Lumbini, Pokhara and Kathmandu during the summer, we should develop hill stations targeting tourists. When such destinations are made easily accessible, the inflow of tourists into those places will increase. Kullu Manali, Sikkim and Darjeeling in India receive a large number of Indian as well as other tourists in summer.
It is a welcome decision on the part of the Government of Nepal to allow the NTB to organise the International Indian Film Academy Award (IIFA) 2019 in Nepal. The government has taken the decision in this connection keeping in view the Visit Nepal Year 2020. Many have opposed the government’s move on social media in regard with the expenses for the event. As a tourism entrepreneur, I believe that the decision to host such a vital event is not bad. There is no doubt that we have many priorities. Tourism is also one of the priorities. With the event going to have positive implications for our tourism, we should be ready to invest in such ventures. What we must understand is that our tourism has not grown much in the last 60 years due to lack of investment.
When celebrities visit any destination, they give a good mileage to tourism as their visit gets a lot of media coverage. It may be recalled here that the inflow of Indian tourists into Janakpur and Muktinath has continued to increase because of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in the past.
Tourism is a dream business. As tourists visit any destination to spend money, we should ensure sanitation, healthy environment, security and hygienic food. Tourism will become a pillar of our economy if we manage them all. The State as well as citizens have their responsibilities to carry out for giving a boost to the tourism industry.
(Palikhe is a veteran tourism entrepreneur based in Pokhara. The article is based on conversations with Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal.)
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