Manohar SJB Rana does not need much introduction to offer as he has been quite familiar face of the tourism industry in Nepal. With more than three decades of experience in the field of tourism, Rana is one of the most knowledgeable tourism professionals. At present, he works as the executive president of Explore Himalaya Travels (P) Limited and 1st vice-president of Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO). A former advisor to PATA Nepal Chapter and Executive Member of European Economic Chamber, Rana came to limelight even in the late 1980s when he had managed to bring the first ever Concorde aircraft and Boeing 747 to Nepal. At that time, he was working at Yeti Travels. The arrival of those aircraft helped boost Nepal’s image as a tourist destination internationally. The widely travelled and visionary tourism professional calls for developing Nepal into a quality tourist destination. Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal caught up with Rana to speak about some of the relevant issues concerning the country’s tourism sector. Excerpts:
How is the country’s current tourism scenario?
Nepal has continued to see a positive tourist arrivals trend over the past couple of months. The country welcomed more than 742,000 international tourists in the first eight months this year. The number is nine per cent high as compared to the arrival figures of the same period last year. Until a couple of months in the past, bookings at major hotels for this autumn were quite encouraging. But hoteliers say that the hotel occupancy has now declined by about 20 per cent. However, this may not apply to many small hotels, lodges and home-stay facilities offering accommodation to tourists. The pattern of tourist arrivals has changed in the country over the years. In the past, a lot of third-country tourists used to enter Nepal via New Delhi of India. The period of June, July and August would be an off season for the country. But we receive many foreign tourists during this period as well. They visit Tibet, especially Manasarovar. However, the roads to Tibet are not good. They get obstructed frequently due to landslides.
What are the major obstacles to the growth of our tourism sector?
It is sad to note that we do not have adequate infrastructure. One of the examples is that we do not have good vehicles for tourists. In the past, we would offer Japan-made Mercedes coaches to tourists that were not available in India. Now different brands of vehicles are manufactured in in the southern neighbor. These vehicles are very expensive here in Nepal as compared to India. So, we have continued to request the government to rebate taxes on such vehicles. The condition of roads to different prominent tourist spots like Bouddha, Sankhu, Dakshinkali and Nagarkot is not up to the mark. These roads are full of potholes. Almost similar is the condition of roads to Chitwan and Pokhara.
We have many monument sites, which are an important tourist attraction. But we have failed to keep them neat and clean. It is appalling to note that heaps of garbage can be seen at those sites. The authorities concerned must pay due attention towards giving a facelift to these places. The air and dust pollution in the valley is another serious problem. It has reached an alarming stage. Owing to such problems, visiting tourists are not happy. Keeping this in view, the government must adopt a policy to promote electric vehicles in the valley. What the government should understand is that tourism cannot thrive unless and until there are better infrastructures. Anyway, managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority Kulman Ghising has pledged to put all the electric wires underground in the Kathmandu Valley. This will definitely help change the look of the city. Ghising’s plan has brought a lot of cheers to all of us.
The country is going to celebrate the Visit Nepal Year 2020 with an aim of giving a boost to the tourism sector. How far has it created enthusiasm and hopes among tourism stakeholders?
With the VNY 2020 approaching, tourism stakeholders seem to be very enthusiastic. It is necessary for Nepal to organise such an event in order to enhance the country’s destination image in the international arena as our tourism sector has suffered a setback due to the 2015 earthquakes. The upcoming national tourism campaign is expected to disseminate the message that everything is normal here and the country is eager to welcome more tourists. It is a praiseworthy move on the part of the government to do something important for the tourism industry to grow in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and the VNY 2020 Secretariat seem to be making efforts to publicise and promote the upcoming tourism campaign. All the tourism stakeholders should join hands with them to make the event a success.
The previous tourism campaigns—Visit Nepal Year 1998 and the Nepal Tourism Year 2011—were also successful, to a great extent, in highlighting the country’s tourism resources internationally. We are hopeful that the country will be able to meet the target of receiving 2 million international tourists by 2020. Similar types of events should be organised time and again ever after 2020.
Despite a growth in the number of tourists in Nepal, per tourist spending has been decreasing over the years. How can the country deal with this problem?
It is a matter of despair that per tourist spending has been going down gradually. The existing unhealthy business practices are one of the major factors contributing to this. If we do not check this tendency immediately, it will cause further damage to our tourism business. The government also needs to pay its due attention towards this issue. There is no doubt that Nepal possesses god-gifted natural products. Bhutan has gone for quality tourism. That country has been able to cash in on its tourism resources properly. Each of tourists visiting Bhutan now spends US$ 200 per day as the country has promoted itself as a virgin destination.
Bhutan is doing well and everything is tourism-friendly there. The country has also focused on sanitation and cleanliness. However, Nepal is ahead of Bhutan in terms of product quality and diversity. We should also opt for quality tourism in the long-run since the number alone cannot support our economy. We must be ready to offer better facilities and services to tourists.
However, we are not in a position to go for quality tourism right now. We need to carry out the much-needed groundwork for this. We should build up necessary infrastructures and lay much focus on product diversifications such as culture and adventure. We have new adventure products such as zip-line and scuba diving. Because we are having additional tourism infrastructures during the VNY 2020, we should start our journey towards quality tourism after 2020. Many high standard hotels have now come up. They cannot sustain if the price undercutting continues.
We hope that our tourism industry will get priority as the government has gone for satellite accounting. This system will show the multiplier effects of tourism on the different sectors of the national economy. We should promote the west Nepal, which offers a variety of unrivalled nature-based tourism products. For quality tourism to grow, we should work in a phase-wise manner. We should target both new and repeat visitors.
What are the other areas that we should utilise for tourism development?
Actually, we are very rich in culture. We celebrate a number of festivals throughout the year. We should link those festivals with tourism and promote them at home and abroad. Besides, we need to develop village tourism as this a major segment. Apart from the scenic beauty found in the rural areas, the village people’s culture and lifestyle can be a major tourist attraction. We have not been able to capitalise on many Buddhists sites such as Lumbini and other places of religious importance for tourism. As spiritual tourism holds huge prospects, we should focus on this. The deity at Pathivara Temple in Taplejung district is regarded as one of the most powerful in the world.
Which are the chief tourist source markets for Nepal?
In terms of tourist arrivals, India and China have now emerged as our major source markets. The country also receives a lot of tourists from the United States of America. Europe is another important market. Tourists from the Scandinavian countries have shown their interest in Nepal. But we have failed to bring in more tourists from Europe due to lack of direct air connectivity. Russia is a good tourist source market for us as Russians are high-end tourists. We can attract a sizeable number of tourists from Japan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, South Korea, Vietnam and other Buddhist nations if we carry out more effective marketing activities.
Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) needs to extend its Bangalore flights to Colombo in order to tap the Sri Lankan market. The national carrier has recently resumed its flights to Osaka. It should join hands with Nepali tour operators. More lucrative pilgrimage packages should be offered to Japanese travellers. NAC must maximise the utilisation of its wide-body jets through operating flights to long-haul markets. This alone can help boost our tourism.