Mountain tourism should be high on agenda
Santa Bir Lama
Nepal is one of the world’s top tourist destinations in terms of tourism products. With her unparalleled scenic beauty, the country offers a myriad of tourist attractions to tourists. Some of them include Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) and other high mountains, green valleys, national parks and protected areas, Lumbini to cultural diversity. With her boundless cultural and adventure tourism prospects, the unique nation is a preferred tourist destination.
Tourism has been an important economic sector in in Nepal as it creates many jobs and generates lots of revenue. The country has witnessed an upward tourist arrival trend over the years. More than 1.17 million international travellers visited Nepal last year while the country was able to welcome altogether 585,531 tourists in the first six months this year.
But the income from tourism has not been going up as per the increase in the number of tourists. Per tourist spending has also been going down. Despite having high quality tourism products, the country has now known as a cheap destination because of the existing unhealthy business practices. We have been unable to cash in on our top products. If this trend continues, the tourism industry is sure to lose its charm as a vibrant sector.
In the past, tourism was a very lucrative sector with relatively higher spending tourists coming to the country. Now the trend is reverse. It is time for us to make necessary efforts to attract high-end tourists. We need such a policy that supports us to promote quality tourism. Having better infrastructure is a must to boost the tourism industry.
As Nepal is mostly a mountainous nation, we need to focus on mountain tourism and other adventure tourism segments. Trekkers and mountaineers stay here much longer than other tourists. That means they spend more while being in the country. It is needless to say that the country is home to numerous mountains, including eight of the 14 peaks above 8,000 metres. The government has opened a total of 414 peaks to climbers. Mountains are a key tourist attraction.
However, it is a matter of serious concern that climate change and global warming has adversely affected the mountain region. In the Himalayas, snow has been melting rapidly. The silver-like mountains have started to look like black rocks. Because of this, there are possibilities of glacial lakes being burst. Actually, the mountains are in an alarming situation. So, we must come up with a more effective action plan to save our mountains.
Lengthening the stay of tourists within the country is another challenge for us. Over the last couple of years, tourists’ average length of stay has fallen considerably. One of its reasons is that we have fewer tourists coming from long-haul markets like the Western Europe, the United States and Canada. In the past, most of the tourists visiting Nepal were from the long-haul markets. The situation has changed now. We now receive more tourists from India and China. Their stay is less as compared to other tourists coming from long-haul tourist source markets.
Although we have a long history of tourism, we have few tourist destinations and products. We must develop more and more tourist spots and build up necessary infrastructures in order to diversify the tourism industry. Such efforts will help us attract repeat as well as new tourists. When they have more places to visit, they will naturally stay much longer period here. That means more areas will reap benefits from tourism.
The country has seen a significant increase in the number of tourist standard hotels, resorts and lodges in major tourist destinations like the Kathmandu Valley, Pokhara, Chitwan, Lumbini. Around one dozen hotels are going to open in the Kathmandu Valley alone. One of the positive aspects is that several international chain hotels are being established. We are hopeful that they will play a crucial role in promoting Nepal as a tourist destination through their network.
As we are going to celebrate the Visit Nepal Year 2020 with a target of welcoming 2 million foreign travellers, the boom in the hotel industry is expected to be helpful for meeting the goal. We need to intensify preparations for the mega national tourism campaign. Until now, we have been unable to make necessary preparations for the event. They are going on at a snail’s pace. We still have a long way to go when it comes to infrastructural development and tourism marketing and promotion. We must give a facelift to our heritage sites and other tourist spots.
It is high time that the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) and the VNY 2020 Secretariat made necessary coordination with all the stakeholders at home and abroad in order to make the upcoming tourism campaign a success. There should be competent and dynamic persons in responsible positions. Otherwise, there will be no desired outputs.
Numerous cultural festivals are organised in different parts of the country. We must promote such festivals abroad in order to attract those interested in cultural activities.
It is also a matter of concern that the government has slightly increased visa fees for tourists. Instead of doing so, the government should have offered visa incentives and other facilities to potential tourists. It should also work together with all the international airlines flying to and from Kathmandu for tourism promotion.
Nepali tour operators should create tour packages for different destinations and offer special discounts to tourists planning to visit Nepal next year.
The authorities concerned now need to appoint goodwill ambassadors so that the latter could help us promote the upcoming national tourism campaign in different parts of the world. Apart from this, we should invite renowned international male and female climbers and media delegates to the country next year by offering gratis visa to them.
Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) has continued to highlight Nepal’s mountain tourism through its network abroad. NMA delegations have frequently responded to queries raised by different alpine clubs and their members at different international forums, including the Union of Asian Alpine Association (UAAA)’s conferences.
Besides, NMA has started promoting all the 414 peaks opened to climbers. We have also joined hands with the MoCTCA and other relevant agencies to clean up Mt. Everest and other mountains. Being a national alpine club of Nepal, NMA will leave no stone unturned to give a boost to our mountain tourism. We are also committed to making the VNY 2020 a success.
Recently, NMA has revised its by-laws. As per the new provisions, Nepali mountaineers, who have scaled one of the world’s 14 mountains above 8,000 metres, are eligible to get NMA’s membership. Similarly, the local trekking companies selling one of the 27 NMA-promoted peaks will also get its membership. The existing by-laws ensure that no NMA members can be its president for more than one time.
(The President of NMA, Lama is the managing director of Lama Adventure Trek & Expedition (P) Limited. The article is based on conversations with Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal.)
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