Thursday, 18 July, 2024

SAG: A vital event to brand VNY 2020


Birat Anupam

These days, Kathmandu is not just a capital city of Nepal. It has turned into a sporting capital of South Asia.
The 13th edition of South Asian Games (SAG), started since December 1, has brought in 2,715 athletes from seven South Asian nations. Top players from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are competing for 1,115 medals from 26 sporting disciplines.
This 10-day South Asian sporting fair is being hosted for the third time by Nepal since its inaugural edition in in 1984 in the country.
Regionally speaking, SAG is being held at a time when its umbrella political body of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) is at stalemate with uncertainty of its 19th Summit.

Crucial time
Domestically speaking, SAG is being run at a crucial time just a month before Nepal celebrates Visit Nepal Year (VNY) 2020. Interestingly, after its inaugural edition, Nepal had hosted SAG just around its tourism year. For example, Nepal hosted the eighth edition of SAG in 1999 just a year after its first Visit Nepal Year 1998. This time also, Nepal’s Visit Year is just around the SAG.
Nepal must utilise its golden opportunities to entice more South Asian visitors through SAG. Hundreds of players, coaches, match commissioners and other officials representing SAARC nations have arrived in Nepal.
The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation and Nepal Tourism Board can utilise this great opportunity to brand Nepal's tourism treasures. Nepal's popular touristic towns of Kathmandu, Pokhara and Janakpur are hosting SAG. This has given additional strength to brand our tourism year.
Kathmandu has seven UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites. It is the largest number in any South Asian capital.
And, maximum competitive events are held in Kathmandu. Tourism authority can work closely with SAG organiser to brand Kathmandu among our SAG guests.
Likewise, the lake city of Pokhara is hosting some events. Janakpur, the cultural epicenter of Province Two, also hosts some events. Local and provincial governments representing Pokhara and Janakpur must device some beautiful strategies to brand their global touristic magnets.
Branding our organic tourism products of nature, culture and adventure, at the onset of VNY 2020, is important for many reasons.
Despite being a great tourism destination in South Asia, Nepal gets few South Asian tourists other than India, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. For example, Bangladesh is the biggest tourism source market for India. It is said that among every 5 tourists in India, one is from Bangladesh. However, Nepal is unable to welcome more Bangladeshi tourists.
In 2017, Nepal just hosted 29,060 Bangladeshi tourists. It is just a fraction of what India gets from Bangladesh. For example, in 2017, India received 2,156,557 Bangladeshi tourists which are more than total tourists from Europe that year in India.
Likewise, Nepal can lure in more South Asian tourists from other big tourism markets of Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Nepal's target to meet 20 million tourists in 2020 is not an easy affair given our recent tourism statistics.
Exact figures of total visitors of 2019 are yet to come. However, in 2018, the tourist arrival was less than 1.5 million. A total of 1,173,072 international tourists visited Nepal last year. Based on this data, Nepal needs more than 800,000 international tourists to meet 20 million mark in VNY 2020.
Meeting the target of 20 million tourists is not easy from Europe, East Asia and America as tourists from these parts of the world need long preparations. For South Asians like Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, casual travel is not a problem. Nepal needs to capitalise on this trend among South Asians.
Better and stronger connectivity, both by land and air, must be ensured for attracting more South Asian visitors. Easy and hassle-free overland land connectivity to Bangladesh and Bhutan from east Nepali border city of Kakarbhitta, which is so close to both nations, can be a game changer to
meet the 20 million mark. Buddhist shrines like Lumbini, Halesi and Boudhanath can be great destinations for Bhutanese tourists.
Likewise, wow-worthy natural wonders of Nepal can be perfect places for Bangladeshi tourists. Likewise, regular flights to other bigger South Asian tourist generating markets like Sri Lanka and Pakistan can bring in more tourists.

Concerted efforts
The government and the private tourism players must work together to appeal more South Asian tourists. For this, SAG can be an opportunity to brand Nepal in South Asia. If our tourism authority works minutely to brand Nepal's tourism year during SAG, celebrity players of South Asian nations can be our brand ambassadors of VNY 2020 inspiring denizens of their respective countries to visit Nepal.
(A member of Tourism Promotion Committee of Province-1 for VNY 2020, the author can be reached at