Nepal Tourism Year 2011 is drawing to a close with its target to bring a million tourists being a realistic one. In that context, New Spotlight spoke to Aditya Baral, Director of PR and Publicity and Spokesperson of Nepal Tourism Board. Excerpts:
The number of tourists visiting Nepal drastically increased in the last one year. Is this a result of Nepal Tourism Year 2011 or Nepal Tourism Board’s regular efforts?
There was a widespread spontaneous enthusiasm amongst the Nepali and foreigners (mainly Nepal loving and other concerned) to celebrate this particular year with some sorts of events, festivals or other activities. These sorts of programs were either run within the country or outside regularly. These events and activities, of this magnitude, happened for the first time, spreading the words about the tourism year, within and abroad. Someway, these activities attracted the domestic and foreign tourists. Consider these as micro level activities. On the macro level, the country was trailing to a transition towards peace with exercises like completing verification process of PLA, forming bodies for addressing contentious issues of constitution, improvement in the human rights activities, improving law and order and, most importantly, the visits made by the heads of various global institutions and the governments. They were able to create headlines in our local and international media which indeed have shown that Nepal is peaceful and moving towards the establishment of mature democracy. All these activities boosted the morale of donors, investors, Nepal lovers and the airlines and hence political development in consonance with the massive promotional activities also gave massive support and good chance to NTY 2011 to take credit for the increment of tourist to Nepal.
As Nepal Tourism Year 2011 is a few days away from coming to an end, what program is Nepal Tourism Board promoting to continue the momentum?
Celebrating tourism year is to provide an impetus to the tourism industry for its substantial gain and growth. What NTY has been doing over the last year is a part and parcel of Nepal Tourism Board’s activities and these are like the head and tail of the same coin. NTB as a promotional body will leave no stone unturned to perpetuate all the activities carried on by NTY to sustain the growth and instill more confidence to the potential Nepal sellers and visitors. So, NTB will carry on its tourism development activities irrespective of NTY. We have extended our network through NTY and encouraged more people to reach inaccessible but promising markets. Government's announcement of celebrating 2012 as Lumbini Year is another shot in the arm to mitigate the challenges of perpetuating the promotional methods under the flagship of peace, culture and spiritualism-all under "land of lord Buddha". So, the basic strategy is the same, to promote Nepal but the theme will be different for 2012.
What is Lumbini Year? How many tourists can Nepal expect during the year 2012?
One of the main objectives of Visit Lumbini Year 2012 (VLY-2012) is to invite the world to work towards creating a peaceful society through Buddha’s peace message, and to make the birthplace of Buddha a centre of global attraction, ultimately inviting more numbers of tourists to Nepal. Officially, no announcement has been made about the expected turnover of the pilgrims in Lumbini right now. The government has not fixed any goal post for this campaign, however, our concerted effort through extensive promotion would maintain the growth rate achieved in the year 2011.
How do you assess the effectiveness of Nepal Tourism Year 2011?
Honestly speaking, NTY has created a huge awareness about the importance of tourism among all strata of the society including politicians, students, government officials and laymen which is a big achievement in itself. It has been successful to include the people from President to the primary school students. It has given a positive message worldwide about the social, political and economical transformation taking place in Nepal. Cancellation of negative travel advisories by almost all countries including US can be termed as an achievement of NTY. The overall survey shows that the people had spontaneous inquisitiveness to present something in the name of NTY and this enthusiasm remained for a whole year, so this was big success in terms of creating awareness, driving market, enhancing Nepal's brand image and regaining the confidence and trust of all. Now the challenge is to perpetuate these positive vibes.
It is reported that Nepal Tourism Board failed to launch some campaigns due to internal problems. How did this affect Nepal’s marketing and promotion?
All programs of Nepal Tourism Board are run according to its annual operation plan which is ratified prior to the starting of the Fiscal Year, most of the time, with the endorsement from the industry through its private board members. So, all the ratified programs are run as per the operation list which is transparently issued to whoever seeks it. It is a public document. Until and unless there are compelling causes which hamper the programs, there is no point of not launching its targeted programs.
What do you think Nepal should to do at this point to bring a million tourists?
Reaching a target of a million tourists within a year is difficult because tourism is a trade dealing with humans. We cannot drag humans. But it is also not impossible provided we keep our house in order. That means proper law and order should be maintained and supportive logistics and infrastructure should also be in order. However, it can be achieved more easily if political situation moves in the right direction. We should have a strong political will to strengthen the national carriers with the latest fleet of aircraft that connect Nepal with Europe and other long-haul countries. National carriers run as per our need and market, whereas overseas carriers run for profit. And, we should let our aviation policy go as per the international rules.
Do you think Nepal has enough hotels and airlines to cater to a million tourists?
When tourism started in Nepal, there was hardly any hotel here. Big hotels started to open in Nepal gradually when the flow of tourists increased substantially. As far as I know, accommodation is not a problem because all tourists don’t spend their night only in Kathmandu or Pokhara. The existing capacity of airlines is more than enough to bring one million tourists by air. However, more than 60% of seat capacity has been occupied by Nepalese travelling abroad. So, it is imperative to have more air-seats to accommodate tourists wanting to come to Nepal from tourist generating markets.
Given the current statistics, how do you see the future of tourism in the coming year?
Tourism industry is unpredictable but it is amazingly resilient. So the future course of tourism depends on the development in political scenario of Nepal. Given the current statistics and scenario, I am hopeful about the future of tourism in Nepal. What we all need today is a strong political, social and economical commitment from all to make tourism industry a vibrant one that eventually brings economic revolution in the country provided we become astute to harness it productively.