The 2 Million Challenge

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The 2 Million Challenge

The success of the fast approaching “Visit Nepal Year 2020” depends on appropriate plans and precise execution.

In 2002, global tourism figures were plummeting as the world was still reeling under the aftershocks of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. Indian tourism, in particular, had reached its nadir. A deadly concoction of 9/11, the Afghanistan War and the perennial India-Pakistan border conflict paralysed rendered the tourism industry shambolic. It was from these depths that “Incredible India”, one of the most successful tourism campaigns ever, emerged. A concerted effort on the part of the Indian government and a batch of highly skilled marketing professionals, the campaign was a palpable success. In 2002, 2.4 million tourists visited India. By 2008, that number rose to 5.4 million. Tourism earnings leapt from USD 3 billion in 2002 to USD 11.5 billion in 2008. The campaign was also the recipient of a plethora of international awards.

Nepal finds itself in a similar situation. The 2015 earthquake led to a 31 percent decline in the number of tourists visiting the country. There are many lessons to draw from the above mentioned example, particularly now, 18 months out from “Visit Nepal 2020”, a campaign aimed at bringing 2 million tourists to Nepal. It would be quite a feat if the country meets the target and a cause for celebration too; tourism is one of the bedrocks of Nepal’s economy, if the sector rises, the country follows suit. 

According to a study conducted by the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism contributed 7.8 percent or Rs 195 billion (USD 1,919.8 million) to Nepal’s GDP in 2017. The same study revealed the sector generated 1.02 million jobs which equates to 6.6 percent of the country’s total employment. These figures indicate the importance of the tourism industry to Nepal’s economy; it is the beacon that will light the way towards a brighter, better tomorrow. 

This fact is not lost on the powers that be; the government has launched umpteen tourism campaigns within the last couple of decades- “Visit Nepal Year 1998” and “Nepal Tourism Year 2011” being the most prominent ones. These campaigns have had mixed results and the government hopes “Visit Nepal 2020” will be a more outright success. 

Hope, however, doesn’t pay the bills.

The first federal budget of Nepal hasn’t inspired confidence among tourism stakeholders; they believe the government hasn’t delivered a concrete strategy mapping out how to go about achieving the challenging target. They have also expressed disappointment at the traditional nature of the budget. A few stakeholders maintain that due to the lack of a tangible plan and a continued traditional approach towards budgeting, attaining the goal will prove to be an arduous task.

Tourism Budget
The government has allocated Rs 5.02 billion for the development and promotion of the tourism sector. Of the total budget, it allots Rs 1.2 billion as capital expenditure, while it has assigned the remaining Rs 3.82 billion for recurrent expenditure. 

Binayak Shah, general secretary of Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN), has expressed disappointment at the traditional nature of the budget. “We were expecting innovative ideas for the tourism sector. But, the private sector will work together to help achieve the government’s target to bring two million tourists in 2020,” he says. 

According to Krishna Kumar Aryal, board member at Nepal Tourism Board, the allocated budget is sufficient to meet the 2 million mark, with the caveat that it requires a lot of hard work. 

“It is very important for the government to spend the allocated budget for the development of the tourism sector. When we look at the past, the capital expenditure has been minimal, which has hit the tourism sector hard over the years,” he says.

The government has administered Rs 730 million for tourism infrastructure development. The budget also has necessary provisions for the maintenance of museums and heritage sites. CN Pandey, president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA), is optimistic the budget allocated by the government will serve the purpose if the plans and policies are implemented properly with regular monitoring.

Poor Infrastructure
Proper infrastructure is a must for increasing the number of tourists in the country. However, many infrastructures linked to tourism are in a sorry state. Sunil Shakya, president of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Nepal chapter says the government’s apathy in maintaining and constructing proper infrastructure in the country has spread a negative message among tourists.

“If the country wants more tourists, they should upgrade the only international airport in the country so that the tourists can visit Nepal with no hassles. The construction of other international airports should also be completed at the earliest,” he says, adding that the government should monitor all the projects related to tourism.

He also points out that the roads within Kathmandu valley, and highways connecting the capital with major cities like Pokhara, Chitwan, Butwal are also in a poor state.

Meanwhile, the government has said it will facilitate the development of necessary infrastructure for tourism services including quality hotels and resorts. “Necessary infrastructures will also be built to develop Nepal as a meeting, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) tourism centre,” Finance Minister Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada said during the budget speech.

Air Connectivity
The government has meted out Rs 19.35 billion to the aviation sector. “Flights will be started to neighbouring countries by upgrading Biratnagar, Janakpur, Nepalgunj and Dhangadi airports to regional airports. Construction of an alternate airport in Dang will be accelerated,” Dr Khatiwada remarked. 

The government has also announced that it will expedite the feasibility study and construction of an alternate airport in Kavrepalanchowk to manage the air traffic faced by Tribhuvan International Airport.

While many believe the international airport under construction in Pokhara is risky as the land is boggy, CN Pandey states the risks have been assessed and mitigated prior to construction. “Now, Nepal Airlines Corporation-the national flag carrier of the country–should work to operate in the major destinations. If NAC operates to major destinations of China and other countries, the flow of tourists will automatically increase in Nepal,” he says.

According to Sanjiv Gautam, director general at Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), approximately 50 percent of the construction work on Gautam Buddha International Airport has been completed. He added that the Pokhara Airport is 11 percent constructed. Meanwhile, India has agreed to provide new air entry routes for Nepal over Biratnagar and Janakpur. Commenting on this, Gautam said international flights can enter Nepal via Biratnagar and Janakpur. “Now, it will save passengers time and money.”

Domestic Tourism
Domestic tourism, ignored in the past, is now on the government’s radar in a big way. On the budget speech, Dr Khatiwada said the government has dispensed a budget to identify, develop and promote at least 100 new tourist destinations across the country, in partnership with provincial and local levels for the promotion of both domestic and external tourism. He added that an internal tourism promotion campaign will be launched with the theme “Country first, then abroad”.

Aryal says the government should make it mandatory for its employees to visit one domestic tourist destination per year. “This provision has already been practised in several countries and it has been a success. Introducing this kind of tourism policy will help domestic tourism grow,” he says, adding that, “the government, in the budget speech, has given priority to promote domestic tourism in the country.”

According to Shakya, the steps taken by the government to promote internal tourism will benefit the private sector. “Promoting internal tourism helps boost the local economy, and also promote cultural and heritage sites,” he says. Shakya also feels the government should reconstruct the heritage sites at the earliest to promote domestic tourism. 

Conclusion 
Aryal has an optimistic outlook. “Although ‘Visit Nepal 2011’ didn’t achieve the target to attract a million tourists, 2011 was a great year for the Nepali tourism industry looking at the scenario of the country. The country had just come out of the civil war, and attracting almost a million tourists that time was a great achievement for tourism stakeholders and the whole nation,” he says.

He maintains that investment in the tourism sector cannot bear fruit immediately; all the stakeholders need to be patient. The government is also looking at increasing the flow of tourists from neighbouring countries– mainly India and China–by organising different promotional programmes with Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). 

It is clear the requisite plans are in place. The diligent implementation of these plans is of paramount importance. With the right execution, “Visit Nepal 2020” could well be Nepali tourism’s zenith. 

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