Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has finally got a new CEO after more than four years. Deepak Raj Joshi has been appointed to the crucial post which remained vacant 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 and is currently reeling under supply disruptions created by protests in Tarai and blockade on Nepal-India border points. In an interview with Krishana Prasai of New Business Age, Joshi shared his plans and strategies for promotion of the tourism sector. Excerpts:
NTB is said to be an autonomous institution. But what is the meaning of such autonomy if the institution cannot get a CEO for four years?
It is not like that. Due to some internal reasons, NTB could not get its CEO on time. The first reason is that the NTB Board remained incomplete for a long time. Secondly, there were strikes and the political situation was also not stable. There were also some legal issues.
Finally after four years, you have been appointed the CEO. How will you guide NTB which seems to have lost direction over the last four years?
NTB was established around 17 years ago to work as per the public-private partnership (PPP) approach. Basically, the major role of NTB is to promote Nepal as an attractive tourist destination in our major source markets. So, when we work hard, creatively and positively to enhance our image of Nepal as a tourist destination, automatically we will be able to recover our lost growth.
You have been associated with NTB for the last one and a half decades. What kind of reforms does it need?
We need to be focused on what we are supposed to do. Next, we need to promote our tourism destinations via creative means which we were not being able to do earlier. We have been taking traditional marketing approaches. For example, for the last couple of years we have been participating in travel trade fairs, inviting some media people, celebrities or travel tour operators. I think we need some innovative tools, some new ways to promote our tourism. And for that I am trying to focus on using digital marketing approaches and strategic marketing and also partnering up with other new sectors. So, in this way we will be able to position Nepal in different ways.
Nepali tourism has taken a nosedive following the massive earthquakes of April 2015. What are your plans to revive it?
Yes, you are right. We received around 800,000 tourists in 2012, 2013 and 2014. But after the April 25 earthquake, the number of visitors is down by 60 percent. That is why the confidence of the entire tourism sector is down. So my first priority will be to boost the confidence of our travel trade fraternity. We must focus on marketing and promotion until we get back to receiving the same number of tourists a year. We need to create demand and bring in more tourists. And for that, I am planning to undertake special campaigns in China as the country is the biggest source market for tourism. I am going to give high priority to the Chinese market. Recently, we have offered free visas to the Chinese travellers. We hope to see more business to business (B2B), business to consumer (B2C) and government to government (G2G) relations with China. The whole idea is about getting more Chinese tourists.
Another important market is India as by 2020 they are going to produce 50 million travellers. We are targeting India on three segments- first is the pilgrimage segment, second is the leisure segment and third is the youth segment. In travel tourism there is a new segment called millennial segment which is a kind of youth segment. At the millennial segment people are connected digitally and prefer customized packages not traditional packages. So that is a very good segment and we must connect with them and we have plans to attract those kinds of travellers also.
What are the new things that you would do at NTB?
Firstly, we will focus more on digital marketing and social media marketing. Second, we will explore new markets like South East Asia where there are Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar etc these are the markets that are emerging very well. An other thing is that we have to promote creativity, innovation in our tourism sector which we are lacking. We are selling now what we used sell 20-30 years ago. We need innovation in our packaging and creativity in our sales schemes. Similarly, we are going to have joint collaboration programmes with non-resident Nepalis (NRNs) as they are very strong now in major source markets like Japan, Russia, Australia, Europe and US. We hope that this kind of collaboration will be very effective for the promotion of tourism. So these are the areas we will be focusing on.
Are you planning annual tourism campaigns like VNY 1998 and NTY 2011?
Definitely we have to do that. May be in 2017 or in 2018 we will try to declare our mega international promotion campaign year because VNY 1998 and NTY 2011 had helped to produce a positive impact in the tourism sector. So I think we must declare a special campaign year for that.
It is said that during the CEO selection process, all 12 candidates, including you, were asked to make a presentation on the topic of “Revitalizing Tourism in Nepal: Prospects and Challenges” in English for 30 minutes. How are you going to implement your plans mentioned in this presentation?
Basically I had projected a simple strategy and approaches to meet it. The tourism sector is badly hit by two major factors- the earthquake and blockade. So the stakeholders are more worried about survival in the industry. My strategy for 2016 will be about survival and then reviving the industry and I will work hard at it. I will focus on the China and India market from where tourists can come immediately. If we can also promote domestic tourism then it will add some relief to the start of 2016.
The following year I see as the year of revival. We will focus on bringing the same number of tourists as we had before the earthquake. Likewise, the year after that will be about re-inauguration where we need to enhance our service sector, bring out innovative packages, expand tourism which is limited only to Kathmandu, Pokhara, Lumbini, Chitwan and some trekking areas. In my fourth year we will be exploring new markets, again enhancing service quality and, overall, we will try to enhance the image of Nepal in the world.
What are your plans to improve domestic tourism?
There are three seasons where the number of domestic travellers increases- New Years, Dashain and Tihar and during the school vacation. So I think we should promote domestic tourism during these times. Next we should offer packages to attract domestic tourists such as packages for family, corporate groups, college youths. We can also encourage tourism entrepreneurs to bring out campaigns like ‘Jau hai Pokhara’ (Let’s Go to Pokhara) etc. Likewise, we need to have some policy improvements too. I heard that Nepalis are not defined as domestic tourists in our policy and we are going to lobby for that to change. I am also trying to lobby the government for two day weekends which will help to increase the number of domestic tourists.
How are you going to do resolve the dispute between TAAN and NTB over the disbursement of the Trekking Information Management System (TIMS) Fund?
There were some conflicts in the past and we need to solve it in a mature way. Currently there is no such negative conflict.
What are your plans for the effective International promotion of Nepali tourism?
As I’ve already mentioned, we need to highlight digital marketing and social media marketing as traditional mediums are expensive and less effective. Digital marketing can create a large impact from a minimum source. I will focus more on these segments. Tourism is a business so we need to be tactful and clever in identifying our markets and capturing the right targets using the right tools. So I am going to set up a new segment for strategic marketing brand positioning to communicate with the world creatively and in a new way.
What about decent air connectivity, keeping in mind that Nepal has only one International Airport?
Our infrastructure has major limitations when it comes to attracting more tourists, especially our aviation infrastructure. We have only one international airport so far which is also very small. So we need to make improvements and expand Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). By 2018 the Bhairahawa Airport is set to be completed and very soon Pokhara Airport is also going to be constructed. I think the completion of these major projects on time will help to meet the targeted number of tourists that we are expecting.
Some international media have placed Nepal in the top 10 destinations of 2016. How is it going to help the tourism sector?
That’s been some very good news. Plus it is also helping to boost the confidence of the tourism sector. I think there are two reasons for this. The first is the love outside communities have for Nepal and next is the integrated approach of the government and travel trade industry in promoting Nepal. So these kinds of positive results are the outcome of all the effort that has gone into the tourism sector. These recent positive news might spread a sense of optimism among our potential visitors and mitigate the negativity that arose after the earthquake.
Lastly, would you like to add something else?
Tourism is a business. It goes or is taken to where it is feasible, profitable and where investors find good return on their investment. So, we need to think like a businessman. Another thing is that tourism cannot be developed in isolation; tourism needs support from different sectors as it is a multi-dimensional business. I would like all the concerned authorities and stakeholders to support tourism because tourism is a major tool to develop Nepal.