“Tourism Needs Peace To Thrive”

<br>Aditya Baral

Sept. 26, 2010, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.4, No.-08 September 24-October 7, 2010

ADITYA BARAL is not a new name. Baral has a long experience of working in Nepal Tourism Board. The Director of Public Relations and Publicity Department also worked as the foreign relations advisor of prime minister late Girija Prasad Koirala. Baral spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues in the context of World Tourism Day. Excerpts:

As Nepal is celebrating Nepal Tourism Year 2011, what prospects do you see in the context of ongoing political instability?
As long as there is peace in the country, political instability is not an issue for tourism. Tourists are least concerned about the political situation if it is not violent. They don’t want their tour itinerary to be disturbed by bandh, chakkajam and other violent protests. This has been proved right as after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Treaty in 2006, tourist arrivals started to grow. As long as we practice democratic exercise without resorting to violence, Nepal Tourism Year is going to be successful. And, Nepal bound travelers have always considered Nepal at the center of their mind more than other trivial issues surrounding Nepal. As long as we maintain the sanctity of tourist’s programs there will be no problem at all to achieve our goal whether it is NTY or other normal period.

Nepal is between Asia's two economic powers India and China, what does it need to do to increase the number of tourists from the neighboring countries?

The first and foremost factor is keeping cordial relations with these two emerging economic powerhouses. Once we are able to radiate warmth and confidence in relations, possibilities of boosting the economy through tourism from these two nations are immense. I am sure, if we keep our house in order, none of the forces of the world can deter us from economic prosperity. Moreover, if two neighbors prosper through global impact, why would the other proximate neighbor be deprived? So this is a natural theory of development. Besides, good air connectivity is the key factor to bring more tourists in Nepal. So Nepal’s focus should be to attract more airlines from these countries providing extra benefits in terms of landing and parking fees. Another important thing that Nepal can do is to vigorously promote Nepal in the different cities of China and India where there is good air connection.
 
Are there any new products for Indian and Chinese tourists visiting Nepal?
We are nature based destinations. We cannot change the topography of our country. Hence, tourism here does not connote changing the products; it is more about changing the perception through proper presentation supplementing with more value additions. So, finding a niche segment and offering them with the renovated offers is the only way to keep our destinations distinct from others. Remaining competitive is another realm for survival. The present trend depicts that young Indians are now interested to try adventure in Nepal. Unlike their earlier generation, they seek adventure in traveling. So bungy and rafting have become very popular among India’s cyber generation. Visit of Chinese tourists in Nepal is just recent phenomena. They enjoy going to jungle safari, casinos and sightseeing in Kathmandu and Pokhara. But devout Buddhists love to go to Buddhist shrines including Lumbini. I guess, style of presentation would leave us in competitive edges with all these bountiful products and unmatched hospitality.
 
Since the last many decades Nepal has been selling the same products in the international market like Everest, Annapurna and Langtang for trekking, don't you see the possibility to open the Himalayas of far western region?
Khaptad and  Rara National Parks have been open for trekking for years. But due to poor infrastructure and marketing, trekkers are not encouraged to go there. These places are equally beautiful as Annapurna and Langtang but in tourism, private sector plays more important role in promoting these places internationally. Since source market is outside Nepal, it’s important for trekking areas in Far Western region to be taken up by tour operators of tourist generating markets. Therefore, Nepal Tourism Board always encourages international tour operators to get actively involved in promoting these areas by providing platform in the international travel fairs.
 
Is the present air capacity enough to bring a million tourists? What about the capacity of the hotels?
Nepal has enough air capacity to bring 1 million tourists in Nepal. Right now 27 airlines are operating from different parts of the world to Nepal. In addition to this, one budget airlines from India is operating its flight to Nepal next month. Accommodation is not a big problem in catering to 1 million tourists. Recently the government has introduced Home Stay policy which allows people to have guests in their houses under proper guidelines. It will help us to accommodate more tourists in Nepal even during the peak season.

How can tourism contribute to uplift the life of rural people? Do you have any special packages to attract tourists in rural Nepal?
As statistic shows almost 30% tourists coming to Nepal go to trekking in rural areas. Tourism is the only industry in Nepal having highest trickle down effect and major beneficiaries are in rural areas. Offering special packages doesn’t fall in the domain of Nepal Tourism Board. It’s the responsibility of private sector to make packages and offer them to tourists. We do have many tour packages prepared by private sector to attract tourists in rural Nepal such as village tourism packages in Sirubari, Ghalegaon, and Tamang Heritage Tour in Rasuwa. We are very much concerned to replicate these modular village centric economic tourism programs.
 
How vulnerable and sustainable is Nepal's tourism?
It is the people’s mindset that makes things vulnerable and sustainable.  Unlike other industry, tourism industry is prone to anything that happens around the world whether it’s terrorist attack in the USA or volcanic eruptions in Iceland. In tourism, everything depends on how people take traveling. Human beings are by birth restless and wish change. Despite best efforts put together by everybody, tourism has not been kicked off as it should be due to many sundry reasons known to everybody. But best thing about tourism in Nepal is that people love to come to Nepal again and again defying the travel warning issued by their countries. If demand (incoming tourist) is consistent tourism would automatically be sustainable. I am sure this is the one plus point we have that makes us sustainable.

How do you look at the investment in tourism sector?
Businessmen always ponder over two things before making investment: favourable climate of investment and return on investment. Though there is a huge prospect for the latter, they are still quite apprehensive about the first one. There is least hope of having Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in tourism right now.  However, local investors seem to have been quite excited to invest in tourism industry. It could be because of an atmosphere of hope brought about by Nepal Tourism Year. Surge in tourist arrivals has encouraged many tourism entrepreneurs for further investment.

How can tourism contribute to uplift the life of rural people? Do you have any special packages to attract tourists in rural Nepal?
As statistic shows almost 30% tourists coming to Nepal go to trekking in rural areas. Tourism is the only industry in Nepal having highest trickle down effect and major beneficiaries are in rural areas. Offering special packages doesn’t fall in the domain of Nepal Tourism Board. It’s the responsibility of private sector to make packages and offer them to tourists. We do have many tour packages prepared by private sector to attract tourists in rural Nepal such as village tourism packages in Sirubari, Ghalegaon, and Tamang Heritage Tour in Rasuwa. We are very much concerned to replicate these modular village centric economic tourism programs.
 
How vulnerable and sustainable is Nepal's tourism?
It is the people’s mindset that makes things vulnerable and sustainable.  Unlike other industry, tourism industry is prone to anything that happens around the world whether it’s terrorist attack in the USA or volcanic eruptions in Iceland. In tourism, everything depends on how people take traveling. Human beings are by birth restless and wish change. Despite best efforts put together by everybody, tourism has not been kicked off as it should be due to many sundry reasons known to everybody. But best thing about tourism in Nepal is that people love to come to Nepal again and again defying the travel warning issued by their countries. If demand (incoming tourist) is consistent tourism would automatically be sustainable. I am sure this is the one plus point we have that makes us sustainable.

How do you look at the investment in tourism sector?
Businessmen always ponder over two things before making investment: favourable climate of investment and return on investment. Though there is a huge prospect for the latter, they are still quite apprehensive about the first one. There is least hope of having Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in tourism right now.  However, local investors seem to have been quite excited to invest in tourism industry. It could be because of an atmosphere of hope brought about by Nepal Tourism Year. Surge in tourist arrivals has encouraged many tourism entrepreneurs for further investment.

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