The much-awaited Visit Nepal Year (VNY) 2020 is being launched in all the seven States across the country today. The national tourism campaign has brought high hopes to all the stakeholders associated with the tourism industry as the nation has set an ambitious target of welcoming 2 million international tourists by 2020. Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal caught up with Suraj Vaidya, the National Programme Coordinator of VNY 2020, to talk about various issues related to the mega tourism campaign on the eve of the formal opening of the event. Excerpts:
What preparations have been made for VNY 2020? Actually, this is not a one-off tourism event in Nepal. It is a continuation of identifying, developing and promoting our tourist destinations and products. We have aimed at keeping the country’s unrivalled tourism resources in the spotlight internationally. We are going to launch this important national tourism campaign today (January 1, 2020) at the Dashrath Stadium of Kathmandu in a grand manner. The event is also being inaugurated in all the seven States across the country. This means that the entire nation is dedicated to making the campaign a success. All the necessary preparations have been made for this. President Bidya Devi Bhandari is scheduled to inaugurate the event amidst a grand ceremony at the Dashrath Stadium. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is also delivering his address at the gathering. It is encouraging to note that tourism ministers from five different countries, including our two immediate neighbours—India and China, have already confirmed their participation in the inaugural ceremony. In addition to this, government delegates from 12-15 nations are also attending the ceremony. Around 50 international media representatives will be here to cover the event. Ambassadors working with different foreign diplomatic missions and development agencies based in Kathmandu have been invited to the inaugural ceremony. Nepal’s goodwill tourism ambassadors living in different countries across the world will also be attending the event. Besides, all the ministers and other government officials of the federal government, local tourism entrepreneurs, media representatives and others belonging to various walks of life are taking part in the event. We have also invited Chief Ministers of all the seven states to the opening ceremony. The success of the 13th South Asian Games (SAG) has set a new benchmark enhancing the country’s image. VNY 2020 begins just 20 days after the SAG. So, the VNY will definitely set a higher benchmark.
What are the other tangible efforts being made to receive 2 million tourists in the next 12 months? The VNY 2020 Secretariat and the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) have remained effortful in marketing and promoting the mega campaign in the international arena as well as coordinating with different stakeholders across the country. As I mentioned above, we are trying our best to meet the targeted number of visitors. In the recent months, we have held interactions with Nepal’s ambassadors based in various European nations in Rome of Italy. We mainly discussed how to bring in a maximum number of tourists to Nepal from that part of the world. Likewise, we also held similar meeting with our envoys working in the Middle East countries in Oman. A similar interaction was held with Nepali envoys stationed in the Southeast Asia and Far East in Bangkok. The meetings were very fruitful. Moreover, we also have held a series of meetings with the private sector to discuss how to develop more service infrastructure and upgrade the existing ones in order to attract quality tourists into the country. A lot of Nepali youths are working abroad and more others are interested in following suit. This is because of lack of job opportunities within the country. We have shared our ideas with Chief Ministers of all the seven States about developing new tourist destinations and products so that more jobs can be created for the unemployed youths. Services and facilities at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) have improved considerably over some months. The Prime Minister has vowed to develop TIA into a boutique airport. Efforts are now underway in this connection. We have trained many taxi drivers how to behave with tourists as the former leave a lasting impression on the latter. A lot of other human resources involved in the tourism sector are also being trained in order to enable them for providing better services to tourists. What surprise packages/incentives will the government and the tourism industry offer to tourists during the eventful year? Tourists will get special Nepal promotion cards and enjoy discounts on airline tickets and other services. We are planning to give them lottery air tickets and various other gifts. As of now, we have developed a few tourist destinations like Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan, and Everest and Annapurna regions. We have to go a long way for creating more destinations and products in the eastern and the western parts of the country. We have festivals throughout the year. Such cultural activities are attractions for tourists. We are scheduled to carry out various activities across the nation to impart amazing experiences to travellers in line with the VNY 2020’s slogan of ‘Lifetime Experiences’. In Karnali State and State 7, adventurers will experience a 180-km rafting in the Karnali River as we are organising an international rafting competition there. As the longest rafting, the product will be registered in the Guinness Book of World Records. Similarly, a special seven-day programme will be organised in Lumbini (in State 5) with the participation of tourism ministers and Buddhist gurus from different Buddhist nations during the upcoming Buddha Jayanti. While Mecca hosts about 12 million Muslims every year, Lumbini can also welcome a lot of Buddhists. In Sate 4, an international mountain bike contest between Muktinath and Marpha will be organised. Those taking part in the competition can experience the world’s deepest gorge in the Kaligandaki River. Likewise, in State 3, the Ramayana Circuit will be promoted. The Himalayas are believed to be Lord Shiva’s abode. And Nepal is home to about 70 per cent of the world’s Himalayas. A Mahayagya will be hosted at Devghat. The event is expected to further promote our pilgrimage tourism. In State 3, various cultural and sporting activities will be organised. State 3 government will introduce different cultural tour packages. In State 2, a weeklong special event will be organised to coincide with the Bibaha Panchami. In addition, women’s football tournament and archery competition will be held in Janakpur. In State 1, Everest Summiteers’ Summit will be hosted. About 3,000 climbers have climbed Mt. Everest so far. They will be felicitated. We will also focus on MICE (meeting, incentive, conference and exhibition) tourism. India is a potential market for us to promote this tourism segment. We have requested the UN agencies, Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other organisations to host their conferences here in Nepal. The government needs to offer incentives to national and international organisations to hold their conferences in the country. See Page IV It is said that tourists coming from neighbouring markets spend less as compared to those from long-haul ones. What is your take on this? There is a tendency among travellers worldwide to make short trips because they are now busier as compared to the past. The nation can reap more benefit when more tourists come here. Being a nation in a strategic location between India and China, Nepal can welcome many tourists from these two giant economies. I do not agree with the view that Chinese and Indian tourists spend less. They are found purchasing expensive goods like Rolex watch during their trips. They also stay in good hotels and spend much on food items as well. We hope that Nepal will see more tourists from these neighbours. The recent state visit paid to Nepal by Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to be very helpful for our tourism. He also assured Nepal of necessary support for making the VNY 2020 a success. Similarly, well-known Chinese artiste Xu Qing, who is our goodwill tourism ambassador, is trying her best to popularise Nepal in her homeland. She is quite dynamic. Since the European Union (EU) has blacklisted Nepali airlines, we should focus on the neighbouring markets.
A lack of better air connectivity with major tourist source markets is one of the difficulties facing our tourism industry. How do you see this?
It is true that we do not have a desired level of air connectivity. However, the situation is improving gradually. Himalaya Airlines now operates direct flights to Beijing. It is in the process of expanding its services to some more cities in China. Nepal Airlines Corporation is planning to start flying to Guangzhou in China and Tokyo in Japan. We have already good air connectivity with the Middle East countries. We need to make extra efforts to lure more tourists from the Middle East and expatriates. The government must come up with a policy of encouraging more and more investors to invest in tourism-related enterprises and products. Ultimately, this will help create more jobs and revenue in the country. It should attract more foreign international airlines by introducing the policy of providing subsidy in aviation fuels.
There has been an upward trend among Nepalis to travel abroad. What can be done to divert them to various domestic tourist destinations? It is true that Nepalis can also afford to travel. Domestic tourism can also be developed only through building up necessary infrastructure. We have numerous alluring places like Rara and Khaptad. But we cannot go there because of lack of infrastructure. Another issue is that even the government is yet to adopt the policy of providing incentives to civil servants for travel. If they get a certain amount of money and leave, they will certainly visit different parts of the country every year. Such incentives will help boost their morale. The money they spend will also remain within the country. I heard that about 500 Nepalis visit the Thai Embassy based in Kathmandu to apply for visa. Those Nepalis who chose to travel overseas should also love the country and explore our scenic beauty and cultural diversity. They must not underplay our importance. All of our attractions are natural unlike those in other countries