By D.M. Thapa
There is much talk about the forthcoming “Visit Nepal Year 2020”, which just a few months away now. The ambitious aim is to bring in about two million tourists into the country during the coming year.
This author has always agreed with the experts and entrepreneurs who have said that tourism has all the potentials to be the backbone of Nepal’s economy. Right now, remittance is a strong pillar in holding up the burden of a virtually crumbling economy, this bubble won’t last forever. Hydropower is another natural gift of Nepal through which it can sustain itself, but again, implementing a hydropower project is a long and expensive project and the returns will also take time to show more significance, like in cutting down the huge expenditure the country makes in importing fossil fuels.
Naturally, the government has a huge hand in making both tourism and hydropower business a success. Its contribution in building physical infrastructures to support a project, explaining well to the people the projects are for their own good and making it sure that there are no hindrances while building airports, hydro-power projects, roads and other such things, that the they must also be ready to make some sacrifices to see a prosperous Nepal.
Now to come back to the Visit Nepal Year scheme, this is not a bad project in anyway and this is not the first time that the country is organizing such an event. Way back in the nineteen Eighties also, such a scheme was announced. That time, unlike now, the government had more time to bring more tourists, but not much happened. It just turned out to be a slogan coined by a clever minister who wanted to be in the good books of the then King, who wielded absolute power.
This time the slogan and all the hoopla that comes with it are all there, but there just isn’t enough time to make if nothing else, at least Kathmandu beautiful. With a federal political structure in place, the task of opening new tourist destinations is not going on smoothly due to the comparatively new powers given to local level officials.
The only positive side is the serious manner in which tourism entrepreneurs and industrialists are putting in their efforts to make this event a successful one. Also the Minister seems very enthusiastic. But there are the nitty-gritty things which cannot be handled by a minister alone, for such works to be done, all departments of the government and also the people have to be involved.
But it is already September now and we have barely time to clear–up Kathmandu and build other physical infrastructures and publicize about this event taking place in Nepal. One well known tourism entrepreneur complained how few publicity events or even advertisements have been organized by the Nepali Embassies abroad. At least we should spend some money on TV ads, which reach throughout the world and also local TVs in some target countries. “But neither our planners nor those politically appointed people know how they can make such arrangements,” he further added.
Yes he is right, exactly like a lady official in the tourism sector who said, “Bringing two million people into Nepal is not a joke, specially when we are not totally prepared to handle so many people, give them proper hotels, have more international flights, build nice airports and have all the necessary back-ups that tourists are so finicky about these days.”
“If there are high spenders to whom we can provide good service and comforts they need, just bringing in about half a million tourists is enough for a nation like Nepal,” she added.
This might sound too drastic and putting a “wet blanket” on the enthusiasm of the organizers, but what these two have said is quite true. In many developed and rich nations, people plan their holidays to exotic places like Nepal quite early, sometimes even years ahead. But here we are, just building our airports and the National Flag Carrier, Nepal Airline Corporation (NAC) has few direct flights to most developed countries. Even the three times a week flights to Osaka in Japan has been cut down to two flights per week, after a few days of operation of the flights.
The only international airport is situated in Kathmandu and that is also being repaired now. The immigration authorities and security staff are downright impolite at other times and don’t seem to care whether it is a Visit Nepal year or not, after all they have exorbitant income from the airport itself. The exit from the airport is no better and then starts the rush, chaotic traffic and the visible pollution which are unbearable not only for tourists looking for a “Shangrila”, but also residents who have to stay here for work or other reasons.
This author remembers a time when a weekly published in a Western country called Kathmandu as one of the “dirtiest cities in the world”. This report affected the tourism sector badly for quite some time. That was the time when even luxury hotels had to give rooms in dirt cheap rates and tourism really did not take off till a long time. And then there was a violent insurgency throughout Nepal, which deterred tourists from coming here.
So instead of trying to do things in a hurry, it would be better if planners, government officials, tourism entrepreneurs and professionals in the promotion business sat down together and planned such an event with care and pragmatic ideas at least some years before such an event is organized. Then perhaps we will have high-spenders and normal tourists in large numbers. And also one mere report or some bad experience of a visitor and the political situation in the country will have no effect on tourism.
Let the people from all over the world see the natural beauty of Nepal in comfort and no fear, and let also Kathmandu be called a unique City of culture, heritage and art and not a dusty Valley with bad roads and constantly chaotic traffic. All it takes is some good planning and infrastructure building to make tourism be the real and long-lasting backbone of the country’s economy.