Deepak Raj Joshi, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), is a dedicated, energetic and knowledgeable official. Joshi, who has been working at NTB since the beginning, took up its leadership at a challenging time. He deserves the credit for a fast recovery of Nepal’s tourism industry that had suffered a big setback due to the devastating 2015 earthquakes. Known for his amicability and straightforwardness, Joshi was also awarded the highest IIPT Champions in Challenge Award 2018 by International Institute for Peace Through Travel and Tourism at the ITCMS (International Travel Crisis Management Summit) in London. Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal spoke to Joshi to talk about the various issues related to Nepal’s tourism industry, including the groundwork being carried out for the impending Visit Nepal Year 2020 (VNY 2020). Excerpts:
NTB must be busy making preparations for the upcoming national tourism campaign. What sorts of preparation are now underway?
Nepal has witnessed an encouraging tourist arrivals trend from different source markets. We have also intensified our destination marketing and promotion efforts in almost all the tourist source markets. But what is lacking within the country is the infrastructure. Despite this, it is heartening to note that Nepal recorded about 25 per cent growth in international tourist arrivals in 2016, 2017 and 2018. We are required to achieve a tourist arrival growth of 31 per cent in 2019 and 2020 in order to meet the target of bringing in two million foreign tourists by the next year. But it may not be possible for us to achieve the target this year due to lack of adequate airport infrastructure. As the runway at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) is undergoing rehabilitation, it remains closed for seven hours daily. However, the country’s only international airport will come into operation for 24 hours from coming January. The Gautam Buddha Regional International Airport in Lumbini is also coming into operation in the near future. We are aggressively carrying out the groundwork for VNY 2020 as the year-round national tourism campaign is at our doorsteps. We have left no stone unturned when it comes to making preparations for the tourism campaign. We have mobilised all the resources at our disposal. We are now working on the VNY 2020 mid-term planning. We are working on four/five fronts as preparations for the event. Since NTB cannot build up big infrastructures, we have been lobbying hard with the authorities concerned for the same. We have also focussed on making necessary reforms in various government policies and providing incentives to filming teams. We are in the process of creating public awareness about the importance of domestic tourism promotion. As mentioned above, we have laid much focus on destination promotion in the major international tourist source markets. We have gone for digital technology for tourism marketing and promotion. Besides, we have pre-launched the VNY 2020 in different parts of the world. We are hopeful that such activities will help boost the country’s destination image.
Which are the major tourist generating markets where NTB has laid much focus?
Being our immediate neighbours with booming economy, India and China are naturally in our focus. We are also prioritising Buddhist nations as we are having an international airport in Lumbini soon. Apart from Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Myanmar, we have started exploring other Southeast Asian nations like Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Several East European nations are equally in our priority considering their growing number of outbound travellers. Apart from them, we have accorded top priority to the United States of America (USA) as it is the third largest tourist source market for us after India and China. The tourists coming from the long-haul markets stay here much longer as compared to those coming from short-haul ones. So, we must increase our presence there.
President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping recently paid a state visit to Nepal. What impact will the visit have on Nepal’s tourism? President Xi’s visit has been very encouraging for us. From tourism point of view, the visit was a milestone for us because the media covered the event globally. It was because of Xi’s personality. It is needless to say that around 150 million Chinese citizens travel abroad annually. The number is increasing every year. Although Nepal and China are very close physically and diplomatically, many Chinese were not familiar with our nation. The visit has been instrumental in making Nepal known to those Chinese people. The President himself said that Nepal is a beautiful nation preferred by Chinese people. He also pledged to help Nepal during the VNY 2020. To capitalise on President Xi’s visit and assurance, we must focus on enhancing air connectivity with China. It is good news is that Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) and Himalayan Airlines are going to spread their wings in the northern neighbours soon.
How is NTB collaborating with international airlines flying to and from Nepal for destination promotion?
As NTB and airlines have a common objective of bringing in more tourists, we are discussing carrying out joint promotions abroad. Efforts are underway to offer some incentives in aviation fuels to the international airlines.
What efforts are being made to develop new tourism products?
The government has listed 100 new tourist spots. Profiles of 55 of them have been prepared. The remaining places’ profiles will be prepared soon. A lot of budget is required for developing infrastructures in those places to develop them into tourist destinations. The places are located in different parts of the country. The local and State governments will allocate resources for building up necessary infrastructures there. And the private sector will be encouraged to invest in accommodation and other facilities.
NTB has the major responsibility of tourism marketing. What are the major challenges?
A budget crunch is one of the main challenges we have been facing. Our marketing budget has been increasing over the years. However, the increased amount is also nominal as compared to other nations. The amounts allocated for tourism marketing are still taken as an expense in Nepal. Actually, such amounts are an investment and they can yield returns in the future. So, our perception towards the marketing budget must change. Until some years in the past, our tourism marketing was traditional. We now have started applying modern marketing tools. In China, we have begun promoting Nepal with DiDi, a leading mobile transportation system. We have forwarded the process of reaching a deal with Ctrip, a Chinese travel agency offering comprehensive services such as hotel reservations, air ticketing, packaged tours, as well. Similarly, we have gone for Ola Cabs in India for tourism promotion. Likewise, Nepal is being highlighted through London public buses. However, we still have to focus on innovation in tools, messages and activities in order to make our marketing efforts more effective. Our strength lies in the fact that many people around the world like Nepal and Nepalis. Our prime concerns include aviation and road safety. Once we make improvements in them, the country will stand to benefit more.
Has NTB also realised the need for re-branding our destination image?
Yes, we have started re-branding the destination image. In the past, we had a rigid image only as the destination for those interested in mountains. Nepal is more than mountains as the country possesses a wide range of tourism resources. Our cultural diversity and wildlife tourism are equally interesting. Despite having such unrivalled products, our tourism is seasonal. So, we are trying our best to make the country a year-round tourist destination.
At the end, would you like to add anything?
Domestic tourism has grown significantly, thanks to the Internal Tourism Year-2073 B.S. Facebook and other social media have been helpful for promoting various tourist spots across the nation. More people visit new places with the growth in investment in home-stay facilities. The number of tourists visiting Rara Lake has been increasing. Because of this, new tourist hotels are being established in Humla and Jumla districts. Sri Antu in Ilam district sees some 500-600 Nepalis weekly. The situation is quite encouraging. Domestic tourism promotion can contribute to international tourism.