With the beginning of the year 2020, the ambitious Visit Nepal Year 2020 (VNY 2020) campaign has begun with much fanfare in the country. The government has given much importance to the national tourism campaign, whose basic objective is to attract as many as two million tourists from all over the world. The government has also decided to observe the 2021-2030 decade as a tourism decade to give further impetus to the tourism industry.
This is not the first time that the country has embarked upon a mega tourism event. In 1998 and 2011, the country launched similar campaigns in order to boost the tourism industry but in both cases the country failed to achieve the intended outcomes. The country then sought to launch another campaign in 2018 but it had to be postponed for lack of preparations.
The target of attracting two million tourists seems to be ambitious given that only 1.173 tourists visited the country in 2018 and it is surmised that 1.2 million tourists visited the country last year. So increasing the inflow tourists by 0.8 million vis-à-vis last year seems to be a difficult proposition but it is not impossible if sincere efforts are made by all the concerned.
The government claims that all necessary preparations for making the VNY 2020 campaign a success are in place. The government has introduced 100 new travel destinations, organised national and international sales missions and appointed brand ambassadors for the campaign. Likewise, the government has conducted meetings with over 100 government and non-government organisations to elicit their support to make the campaign a success in their respective areas. The government has also made an agreement with the Non-Resident Nepali Association to promote the campaign. Accordingly, the government is carrying on the 'send one foreign friend to Nepal' campaign in coordination with the association. Besides, the government has appointed international celebrities as brand ambassadors for the campaign. On the other hand, the private sector has offered discount offers for the tourists as part of the campaign.
The VNY 2020 campaign will serve as a foundation for the promotion of tourism and as a guideline for the forthcoming years. The government will identify and promote potential areas as touristic areas. Infrastructure like roads, hotels and airports will be built. Major airports like the Gautam Buddha International Airport, Pokhara Regional International Airport and Nijgadh International Airport, after completion of their construction, are expected to boost up the tourism industry. East-West railways and Kerung-Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini railways, which will come into existence sometime in the future, will play a big role in stimulating the tourism industry.
In fact, the tourist industry has been taken as an important component of the national economy. Banks and financial institutions have taken tourism as a productive sector. However, the contribution of the tourism industry to the national gross domestic product is dismal at three per cent. The VNY 2020 campaign aims at increasing it to 10 per cent. The development of the tourism industry will generate employment opportunities at the local level, thus containing the migration of people from the rural areas to the urban areas and foreign countries in search of jobs.
The country has much potential for the development and promotion of tourism; not but what, it has not been able to make desired headway in the tourism sector. Tourism has diverse forms and manifestations. Leisure tourism, eco-tourism, adventure tourism, business tourism, health tourism, sports tourism, religious tourism, cultural tourism and even sex tourism are some of the important forms of tourism.
The country is well-known for Lord Buddha and Mt. Everest. There is religious harmony in the country. So there are both Buddhist and Hindu religious shrines and sites. Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha, is being developed as a complex of Buddhist shrines. So, efforts need to be made to convince the Buddhists living in such countries as China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Japan to visit Lumbini at least once in their lifetime. It may be noted that tens of millions of tourists visit various religious sites scattered across India every year. On the other hand, efforts should also be put in to attract Chinese tourists as a very large number of Chinese go out of their country to tour the world every year.
It is reported that the stay of tourists in the country is very short. Such transient tourists also spend less than what we expect them to. On the other hand, we have limited areas where tourists can spend. So efforts need to be geared towards prolonging their stay by exploring new travel destinations and developing new products. The longer they stay, the more they spend. This will increase earnings from the tourism industry.
Political stability and improved law and order in the country, among others, have sent a positive message across the international community that the country is one of the finest and safest destinations for tourists. Further, the country is also touted as one of the tourist hubs by internationally renowned organizations and magazines. As the VNY 2020 campaign has formally commenced, the federal, provincial and local governments; tourism entrepreneurs and allied businessmen; the general public; and other stakeholders should, therefore, chip in to make the campaign a grand success. After all, the tourism industry should be linked to the goal of prosperity the country has adopted.
(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000. He can be reached at email@example.com)