Saina Kunwar / Ravi Dhungel
Travel-tech products in adventure tourism and wellness have gained momentum over the past decade. The travel industry is slowly reviving after the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Reportlinker, the global travel tech market is expected to reach US$ 13.6 billion by 2027. Nepal’s travel and trekking entrepreneurs are cautiously optimistic of tourism picking up to the pre-pandemic level but the travel-tech industry at the infancy.
In May this year, Nepal saw nearly 53,608 foreign tourists. In 2017, the average monthly tourist arrival was 0.94 million, which increased to 1.17 million in 2018, and spiked to 1.19 million in 2019, according to Nepali Sansar, a US-based media house. The number of tourists coming to Nepal is very small compared to the usage of travel tech products and services globally. Strata research shows that the worldwide travel and tourism market offers US$ 4.6 trillion. Nepal continues to be a fascinating tourism destination, and for 2022, the country is placed in the top 10 best travel destinations by Lonely Planet.
With the massive potential for adventure and wellness services, Nepal can be at the forefront of developing global travel tech products. Nepal's pristine Himalayas, high altitude trekking, adventure sports like rafting, bungee jumping and wild safari offer unique opportunities to bring investment in software technologies targeted towards travel tech. The geographical advantage of having access to these outdoor activities coupled with the growing number of tech talent availability in Nepal can be unmatched with other such adventure sports destinations. One of the travel tech global products can be a "Work from the Everest Visa" for digital nomads. Countries like Portugal, Norway, Mexico, Mauritius, Malta, Iceland, Germany, Georgia, and Croatia have already implemented work visas for the digital nomads.
The opportunities in the travel tech products come with unique challenges. Nepal's natural adventure tourism and wellness resources have never been fully optimised and or utilised. Scaling the conventional processes and infrastructures to bring millions of travelers is quite a challenge and requires substantial investment than building mundane tech products. Enabling customised travel and wellness experiences, the democratisation of the adventure and wellness services to the lower strata of service providers, and the diversification of travel tech products by massive use of information and communication technologies are opportunities that Nepal is yet to explore.
‘Made in Nepal Travel Tech products’ will have unique advantages over other similar products because of the country’s recognition as hiking and mountaineering destination. According to a Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) publication, 171,542 travellers coming to Nepal identified hiking and trekking as their purpose of visit in 2019. Travellers spend about $20 per day on this kind of outdoor adventure. Diversifying the travel tech products and building a digital experience for these travellers at their fingertips using travel tech services is the need of the hour. Travel tech products coupled with complementary products in digital transformation can increase the per day spending of travellers.
Building customised adventure and wellness technology products, integrating outdoors and wellness data to travellers healthcare data, sharing their adventure with their family members from high altitudes and allowing local communities to customise their local traditions and services as a travel tech product will unleash new market segments for the travel service providers in Nepal. Furthermore, enabling the wider travel tech ecosystem to consume and open Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) to the global and local travel tech companies will create partnership opportunities among the different echelons of the technology service providers of the industry.
As per the https://tracxn.com/explore/Online-Travel-Startups-in-Nepal, there are 30 travel tech products in Nepal. It's hard to identify which one focuses on adventure and wellness programmes. The government should prioritise the travel tech products in policy because Nepal travel tech products have the potential to be a global technology product and the only technology product that can bring the foreign currency to Nepal.
Focus on FDI
Nepal has eight of the 14 tallest peaks in the world, including Sagarmatha, the highest peak in the world. The country has opportunities to build a centre of excellence in the hiking and trekking domain using travel tech products. Bringing foreign direct investment (FDI) in travel tech products requires changes in the FDI policies. Because of the natural resources and geography, only travel tech products and services in the nation can compete globally and become global products. Israel is the number one country in cyber security startups, globally, and Nepal can lead in travel tech products globally.
There are a lot of technology companies trying to beat the race in building travel tech focused on Nepal. JewelTrek is one such product focused on wellness and adventure developed locally in Nepal by California-based startup company ESR Tech. David Vesey, CTO of ESR Tech, is an avid hiker and has travelled to Nepal four times. The company is working to develop a trekking application that can connect travellers directly with the trekking guides and fully customise the trekking adventure. According to Vesey, Nepal has enormous potential for travel tech products because of geography and young talents in software development. ESR Tech has been developing the application for the last two years and hopes to launch it in the second half of 2022.
(Kunwar is a graduate of travel and tourism management and the business analyst of JewelTrek and Dhungel is the vice president of platform engineering and cybersecurity of JewelTrek at esrtech.io)