With the beginning of the New Year of English calendar, various programmes are underway for celebrating the Visit Nepal Year (VNY) 2020 both at home and abroad. Compared to the Nepal Tourism Year-2011 celebration, this year's prospects are different. It is because the incumbent government has laid much focus on economic development for which the role of the tourism industry is significant. It is beyond any doubt that unless the tourism sector picks up, our economy will not boom as many people of Nepal depend for their livelihood on this enterprise. The country offers more exciting and memorable experiences for those interested in eco-tourism activities like hiking and trekking, bungee jumping, paragliding, zip flying and rafting, among others. A number of hotels, resorts and restaurants stand to reap benefits from tourism as they hosts tourists. Those working in such facilities are also beneficiaries of tourism. This sector has also supported many farmers, who have now started getting engaged in organic farming of various cereal crops, fruits and vegetables. It is worth mentioning that more home-stay facilities have been established in various villages that have been endowed with enviable scenic beauty, including the majestic view of the snow-capped mountains. A number of tourists are interested in visiting such amazing places. The gorgeous rivers originating from the Himalayas are suitable for rafting as there is no shortage of water. Rafting in rivers like the Trishuli and the Bhote Koshi is one the most popular hobbies of nature lovers. Even Nepalis of different strata have now started following suit to experience the adventure activity. There has been a growing tendency among Nepalis to travel within the country. They have increasingly become aware of benefits of trekking, hiking and visiting new places around the Kathmandu Valley and elsewhere. Their purchasing power is also increasing owing to high incomes. The positive side of domestic tourism receiving a boost is that many Nepali citizens would be familiar with the opportunities and constraints of the country. This could be a great asset, especially from the standpoint of young generation. They are well-educated but ignorant about many things about the country’s history, culture, geography plus other development prospects. Domestic tourism, as it is gaining ground gradually, is also valuable as it provides us opportunities to see and feel for ourselves about the national treasures and the need to explore more about Nepal and compare our future here with outside. An independent analysis based on the country's ground realities would help us to find out how illusory foreign lands are. But in the broader context, Nepal should prioritise international tourism to mobilise resources so urgently needed for achieving high economic growth that the government has focussed on. How can we promote such tourism that is expected to transform the image of a least developed country like ours, which the present government has vowed to upgrade Nepal to the status of a middle-income country in 2022? With sound policies and firm determination to get them implemented, there is no question why we cannot translate our commitments into action. Looking at the perspectives of potentialities, we can develop our tourism sector immensely; let alone attracting two million foreign tourists into the country in the next 12 months. However, there are a host of challenges to the realisation of the VNY 2020’s goals. Optimistically, our challenges are not unmanageable. Let us mull over the bright side of Nepal’s tourism potentialities against the backdrop of current celebrations going on here and abroad although our endeavours in Sydney in this connection have seemingly hit a snag, which we could have avoided with some prudence. Our tourism minister should have chosen some other country. Understandably, Australia has been under grief of having lost 27 human lives plus other losses due to the bush fires since September last year. How can we expect to welcome 100,000 Aussies this year, whose number last year was 38,000? In view of the natural disaster there, the timing of publicity was hardly appropriate. Furthermore, there are some systemic problems associated with our immigration in Tribhuwan International Airport, which of late has undergone massive transformation considering the government's vow to make it a beautiful boutique airport. None can reach Nepal by flight without passing through immigration, which is as chaotic as ever. Recently, I was a witness to confusion in both areas of immigration, departure and arrival on December 19, 2019 and January 4, 2020 respectively. When a Nepali traveller reaches the immigration section, one gets confused because there is a notice saying that one must fill-up departure cards but in reality we don't have to. Why can't we update the notice? On January 4, RA 202 from Mumbai was delayed and landed at TIA at 3.30am, when about 100 Nepali passengers asked the officers on duty why there was no separate line for them. Why should stand on line behind foreigners whose visa formalities took a plenty of time. Unfortunately, the response was that they had forsaken their sleep and come to desk for serving us as if they were volunteering. Such reply is unwarranted because civil servants should report to the duty officers as directed irrespective of time. These are not big issues and can be solved easily but can damage prospects of successful VNY 2020, if left unaddressed. Hopefully, the government would take suitable measures before it is too late. We are ready to collaborate as responsible citizens but the bureaucrats should give up the old mind-set and deliver as nation requires them to.
(Thapa was Foreign Relations Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. He writes on contemporary national and international issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)