To tap the immense tourism potential and promote the country as a multi-purpose tourism destination, Nepal is set to celebrate the Visit Nepal Year 2020. The national campaign will be inaugurated by President Bidya Devi Bhandari on January 1. The country aims at developing hundreds of new tourism destinations during and after the VNY, bringing in 2 million foreign tourists, enhancing the tourism sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 10 per cent from present 3 per cent and increasing the share of tourism in employment.
We discussed these issues as well as the partnership of the private sector and involvement of the local governments in the VNY 2020 with the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai at the weekly 'Gorkhapatra Sambad' on Sunday. Excerpts:
How will be the VNY 2020 launched?
There was a misconception in the past that Nepal could not organise major national and international events. But after the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Nepal in October this year, and three visits of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal had proved that Nepali security agencies can handle sensitive security situation efficiently and successfully. The successful organisation of the South Asian Games (SAG) this month has sent a very strong message to the neighbourhood and the world. Nepal earned appreciation simultaneously for winning the medals and organising the event successfully.
On the same foundation we are inaugurating the Visit Nepal Year 2020. President Bidya Devi Bhandari will launch the campaign on Wednesday, January 1. Thousands of people from various walks of life, the national and international media, tourism minister of various countries will participate in the event. At least five tourism ministers, including from India and China, have confirmed their participation in the inauguration ceremony being held at the Dasharath Stadium. It will help us in the promotion of the VNY at regional and international level.
Tourism infrastructure except hotel industry is not at par the required standard. How can the country offer efficient and timely services to the tourist in such a situation?
This is a relevant question, but we also should understand that infrastructure development is a process which will go for years. We have to create an infrastructure and continuously work to improve it. It is a never-ending process. Since we spent last many decades in resolving the political issues and create stability, less attention was given to infrastructure creation. But within the next five years, we will have substantial infrastructure including tourism, and aviation. Tourism sector development is constrained due to the single Tribhuvan International Airport. About 7.2 million passengers annually come to this airport. Nepal has 13 per cent yearly growth of air passengers against the global average of 7 per cent.
The TIA need to cater its services to 9 million passengers in the next two years which is the saturation point for it. Therefore, the government has given priority to the development of new regional and international airports in Bhairahawa and Pokhara. Bhairahawa airport will come into operation from May 2020 and Pokhara will start flight operation from 2021. However, our focus is Nijgadh Airport as it is near to the capital and has the potential to be the regional air hub. At the same time, regional airports are also created in the provinces. Road infrastructure is gradually expanding and reaching important tourism sites in the country.
We aim to increase the tourism sector contribution to the economy to 10 per cent from current 3 per cent. Per day expenditure average of a tourist in Nepal is US$44 now which should be increased to $80. Our aim is to draw about 3.5 million tourists annually after five years. New products and destinations will be developed, and more promotional activities will be implemented for Nepal's branding at the international level in order to achieve the goal.
You have said you have a plan to attract 10 million tourists in the next 10 years. Don't you think that it's a bit ambitious?
I am an ambitious man otherwise I would not have reached where I am now from a remote village in the eastern hills. We must be ambitious in setting the national goals. After the completion of some of the critical infrastructure like airports, cable cars and roads, it would not be difficult to attract more tourists. But we need to work tirelessly for a decade to materialise the dream. We will create basic tourism infrastructure in the next 10 years. If we don't aim to have 10 million tourists, building Nijgadh airport by spending about Rs. 150 billion, will be useless.
Why has the Nijgadh airport continuously been the issue of controversy? Even the court recently issued a stay order to the government.
Some people have imagined a disastrous situation if the airport was built. It is just their fantasy. The government has taken initiations to conserve the nature and forest. Holding Cabinet meeting at Kalapatthar, tiger and rhino conservation and other activities show the sensitivity of the government towards that direction. We will cut as few trees as possible at Nijgadh and create even bigger forest somewhere else as well. Felling of 2.5 million trees is just a rumour. The government has initiated a study which will give the exact number of trees needed to be cut down.
About 2.4 million trees were cut down while building the Istanbul Airport which is now a regional air-hub and is making Turkish people happy. We have not forgotten that the environment and development should be taken simultaneously.
Why is VNY in 2020? Do we have enough products to offer to the tourists?
We have 753 local governments which are also working to promote tourism attractions at the local level. Every province will develop its own producst and promote on its own. We have said that in the Policy and Programmes of the coming fiscal year, all three levels of government will come together in creating some national, regional and local tourism attractions across the country. This is the beginning of a campaign. It is the starting point. VNY will not start by January 1 and end with December 31, it will go for years in the future as well. The VNY 2020 will give us the foundation, confidence and strategy to move ahead.
What will be the immediate economic benefit of the VNY 2020?
The main foundation for the sustainable development in Nepal is tourism as it offers never-ending employment opportunities. In other many areas, the number of human resources is rapidly going down due to the use of the technology and modern practices. For example, Home Stay will involve many people from the concerned area and promote the local agricultural as well as industrial products. Tourism sector development will stop the internal migration as well as hold the youth in the country. It will increase investment both domestic and international across the country.
Where are the provinces and the private sector in VNY 2020?
The main organising committee of the VNY is primarily a group of private sector representatives. Every State has a State organising committee and local bodies will also have such committees. All seven States will inaugurate the campaign on first January as well. The VNY 2020 campaign is for the private sector since it creates new business opportunities for them in multiple sectors in tourism. Private sector will make the business strategy and design the implementation.
Meanwhile, we have mobilised the Nepali missions abroad in promoting the national campaign. We gathered all ambassadors in Europe in Italy, Middle East in Oman and East Asia in Bangkok to brief them about the VNY and direct to make it a success. Similarly, the Non-Resident Nepali Association will be working in close coordination with the government. They have launched 'One Nepali, One Foreign' campaign to support it which will play an important role in sending tourists to Nepal.
Nepal's tourism is more concentrated on Himalayas and forest. Have there been any efforts to diversify it?
We have enough attractions in the Terai, including national parks, temples, cultural heritages, where foreign tourists can enjoy in winter. In summer, Nepal has attractions in the hills and mountains. However, we have to put extra efforts to promote off-season tourist destinations and products. I am holding a meeting with the operators and doctors of all major hospitals in Kathmandu to develop the country as the health tourism destinations. Why not to promote Dr. Sanduk Ruit like experts who are the national treasures and have powers to attract many foreigners for health purposes?
We are running short of skilled human resources. I found a handful expert sin tourism marketing at the international level. We must make immediate interventions in 10 major markets. More focus will be given to China, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Japan, USA, UK and other European countries. I have proposed to send a tourism attaché to all Nepali missions abroad. If we are to believe that tourism is the strong pillar of Nepali economy, we must act immediately.
How is the diplomatic community in Kathmandu supporting the VNY?
We had called a meeting of all the representatives of the diplomatic agencies in Kathmandu. We asked them to support in developing Nepali tourism including their help in planning and strategies. Diplomats have given positive reviews. They expressed happiness about the chance to discuss a sectoral issue like tourism with the government and pledged their support in making the national campaign a success.
What is the progress about removing Nepal from the European Union's Air Safety List and splitting CAAN?
I don't see any reasons that EU should keep Nepal in the list. Air accidents have come down significantly here. Aircraft and helicopters operating in Nepal are safe. Audit of Nepali civil aviation last year gave the country 66.5 per cent marks which might has reached 70 per cent now which is much above the world average. But still we are in the air safety list. They have demanded the split of the CAAN. One organisation can't be a regulator and service provider at the same time. We should adopt check and balance principle in the aviation sector which is also the international practice. We have been continuously updating the EU and International Civil Aviation Organisation about the recent positive development in Nepali aviation sector while Nepali missions in the EU are continuously working for the same.
There are rumours that the construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport needs another extension of deadline?
We have reorganised the GBIA construction. In the past, contractor, vendors, locals and other stakeholders had become hostile to the project. As a result, the project that should have been completed in 2018 is still running. But now it is moving as per the given schedule. Chinese contractor failed to supply the required materials in time which slightly delayed the construction work. The government, Asian Development Bank – financer of the project, and contractor had sit together and resolved all the issues.
Local bodies have committees for tourism promotion, but they don't have strategy for it. Do you think they will support in making the VNY 2020 a success in such a scenario?
A large share of budget from the federal government goes to the local level. They should be utilising the budget. Many central agencies have been handed over to the local bodies or shifted to the district or provinces. They need to understand the new set-up and work on their own. The federal government will stop sending money for small projects but support in developing large infrastructure.
They have to work as the partner of the federal government in allocating resources, implementing and monitoring the projects. Ultimately, they have to manage the products themselves.
Have you taken any steps to address the discriminatory air charges to the tourists?
Higher air charges to foreign tourists have discouraged them to go out of the valley which has impacted the development and promotion of tourism destinations in far flung areas.
We are in discussion with the Association of Airlines Operators of Nepal to make the air fare identical for both the domestic as well as foreign air travellers.
What is the status of coordination among the ministries like home affairs and communication?
MoCTCA is the leading agency to execute the VNY 2020 but we are continuously coordinating with the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. The government had given a written direction to all the ministries in terms of making the VNY a success. Concerned ministries have ToRs as well. Tourists are safe in Nepal and when there is a safety issue, there is 24-hour service available.
(Prepared by Modnath Dhakal,
photo by Kabita Thapa)
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