The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation recently planned the Visit Nepal Year for 2020. But what can the sector learn from previous tourism campaigns?
--BY ANUTARA SHAKYA
Over the 50 years of tourism industry in Nepal, there has been a steady rise in the number of tourists visiting the country. Despite the test of time, the country still holds an aura of a mystical nation resting among the Himalayas, filled with temples and humble, welcoming people. The image grasps the curiosity of any foreigner such that even with the lack of promotion, the tourism sector has been growing steadily over the years. But this steady growth is not enough for the tourism sector.
Ever since the Nepal Tourism Year in 2011, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation has had a target of welcoming one million tourists into the country. However, the number of tourists entering Nepal in a year hasn’t been able to rise above 800,000.
In the history of the tourism sector, various 'Visit Nepal' campaigns have been organized to help promote Nepal globally and attract more tourists. Sticking with the goal to attract one million tourists, Visit Nepal Year 2018 was announced in 2015, after the earthquake in order to help boost the industry. Recently, that plan was shifted to 2020 with guidelines that have set the target to draw 1.5 million tourists as opposed to the previously stated Vision 2020 that had a target of attracting two million tourists.
Are 'Visit Nepal' Campaigns Necessary?
Over the years, several campaigns have been launched from time to time to help with the promotion of tourism such as Visit Nepal Year 1998, Destination Nepal Campaign 2002/03, Visit Pokhara Campaign 2007, and Visit Lumbini Year of 2012. Similarly, Gumphir Barsha 2072 was announced as an effort to encourage domestic tourism after the slump in international tourist arrivals following the earthquake of 2015. Currently, Nepal Tourism Board is running Visit-Nepal Europe 2017 which is being promoted by goodwill ambassadors and embassy diplomats of Nepal in European countries.
Looking back, two national tourism campaigns stand out - Visit Nepal Year (VNY) 1998 and Nepal Tourism Year (NTY) 2011. While both events were considered a milestone, VNY’98 is remembered more fondly as the game changer in the country's tourism industry.
Although the 1998 campaign wasn’t able to reach the target of 500,000 tourists, it helped realize the need to bring a constant flow of tourists all year round. The theme for the 1998 campaign was “Nepal for All Seasons.” The VNY 1998 came at a time when Nepal was opening up its economy and had political stability. The event was successful, thanks to the smooth coordination between the private sector, government and the public. It was able to engage all 3 groups that resulted in bringing about a transformation in the tourism sector. Thus, it helped to realize the importance of tourism in Nepal, both nationally and globally.
Meanwhile, NTY 2011 was promoted at a time when the country had to re-establish its tourism image after the political instability of the Maoist civil war. “In 2011, we hoped that with the promulgation of the constitution we can move ahead with developing tourism. A public commitment had also been made by political parties to stop strikes. Although things did not go as planned, NTY 2011 was able to bring 700,000 tourists to Nepal,” says Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB).
What are the lessons learned?
Although not all campaigns were successful in reaching their targets, they taught us some important lessons. Such campaigns have helped us realize the changing trends in the tourism sector and new ways to promote Nepal in the global arena.
“In the past several years, the trend of tourism has changed. So our promotional strategies also need to change. We cannot expect internal promotional campaigns such as bike rallies and cultural festivals to have the same effect as they had in previous campaigns. We have evolved from that stage," says Joshi, "Now we need to focus more on promoting Nepal through the digital and social media.” The NTB signed a contract with BBC World, Reuters and TripAdvisor recently to display promotional videos of Nepal through their media.
What should VNY 2020 focus on?
Joshi states that a new generation of millennial tourists is emerging and the sector should be able to address their needs. With the ease of technology and guide apps, the new generation of tourists has become more independent in designing travel packages for themselves. Hence, pre-packaged deals might not appeal to the larger crowd anymore. The tech savvy millennial tourists can plan their own trip with the help of vast online information. So, the travel industry needs to become more flexible to provide customized trips.
Also, to encourage the flow of tourists all year round, the VNY 2020 will need to be able to promote “off season” tourism as well. “Nepal is one of the rare countries which have six seasons, each with its own specialty. We can capitalize on that by introducing packages such as Winter Fog to Fun or Monsoon Weekend,” says Joshi.
According to Joshi, tourists come to Nepal for its natural beauty and fresh air but only promoting this aspect is not enough. Today, tourists are more aware about sustainability and eco tourism and that is where Nepal needs to change its strategy. Also inclusive tourism is seen as a new trend in the industry that Nepal still needs to catch up to. Making hotels and tours disabled people friendly is a big concern since they are one of the highest paying categories of tourists.
Today even stories sell as making a human connection is also part of travelling to a new place. “We can share Nepal’s stories and messages and since Nepalis are genuinely hospitable people, it is not that difficult to create a close bond with our guests. We can share such stories about bonding and connection through the global network,” states Joshi.
“We need to recognize our target market and create promotional ads accordingly,” says Sarad Pradhan, Media Consultant at NTB. “Our current target markets are India and China. They need to be given priority,” he adds. Pradhan also states that the promotional campaign should not be carried out haphazardly and must ensure that it also includes issues of infrastructure development and road development for better accessibility and comfort to the tourists.