Having worked in the tourism sector for a long time, Aditya Baral, director of Public Relations and Publicity and spokesperson at the Nepal Tourism Board, has many insights to share about the country’s tourism prospects. Baral spoke to New Spotlight on various issues of the sector in Nepal.
In the context of economic diplomacy, how do you place Nepal's tourism sector?
Well, after the slowdown apparent in the many productive sectors of our exportable economy like Carpet, Pashmina, handicrafts etc., Tourism, by virtue of its resilience, is showing continued growth and unleashing many prospects for the players involved in it. With the astounding topography, rich culture, heritage and people's sustainable hospitality towards treating the guests, tourism has remained a synonym for Nepal's image abroad. As a major forex earner, high employment awarding smokeless industry, with very high trickle down benefits to the deprived sectors, this industry is of paramount importance for the healthy growth of the nation. The industry has grown in leaps and bounds by the policy intervention of the government and heavy investment from the private sector. Thus, tourism is acknowledged as an integral part of our economy and must be promoted through all the means whether as part of an economic diplomacy or ritual diplomacy.
Have we been doing enough through our diplomatic missions abroad for the promotion of tourism?
I guess the word "enough" has, many of the times, proven non-pragmatic in an underdeveloped economy like ours, as well at this juncture. Resources are always scarce and it becomes scarcer at times of allocation. Moreover, the definition of "Tourism" is turning vague and scope-less. So, priorities differ, so are the resources. Anyway, tourism is becoming a common trade of all, our embassies abroad are doing one or the other event and program to promote tourism, but I can only say at this juncture that due to the dearth of synchronization in streamlining our efforts, the results are going haywire.
At a time when tourist arrivals are declining recently, how do you look at this trend?
Let me correct it by saying rather fluctuating, not declining. Fluctuating will be the appropriate term to interpret the statistics. Travel is a variable term. Tourism is dissimilar to ferrying commodities hence, humans view destinations from their own in built (psychological) perspective. In this course of evaluation, humans pay attention to internal and external dynamics like, season, war, elections, festivals, timing etc. So, all these factors should be conducive to reach to the conclusions prior to selecting imminent travel destinations. Still, with all these images on the side, people have acknowledged Nepal's pristine beauty and natural endowments as alluring elements, thus though the numbers have slightly declined from some markets, they are going to recoup with our concerted efforts in the upcoming months or years in totality.
What are the new policies of Nepal Tourism Board for the coming years?
The Nepal Tourism Board has closely viewed all imminent intervening elements prior to planning this year's activity, hence decided to continue at regional and traditional markets in collaboration with the private and government stakeholders. I must mention here that we do not have specific national campaigns (like Nepal Tourism year 2011) as such. However, we will run our campaigns under the aegis of the Diamond Jubilee celebration of Mt. Everest. We are also endeavoring to open up our new offices in India and China within this year, if resources and policy allow. Besides running up with our rituals are perennial phenomena that NTB does.
How do you look at the decline in the number of Indian tourists in Nepal?
In order to sustain the number of Indian visitors, we are opening up our own office in appropriate city (after market feasibility study) with massive air connectivity. And, we will leave no stone unturned to collaborate with big houses-both private and public -- to intensify our efforts. However, the bottom-line would be to maximize B2B forums for transformation of our earlier doctrine-from promotion to SALES now.
What efforts is NTB making now to stop the further decline?
NTB is a promotional body, so concentrating on its regular promotional initiatives is an ongoing effort, on automatic form. However, focusing specifically on certain markets or events depends upon the programs it receives through industry players/stakeholders in view of generating traffic and value. We don’t do business but we wish business to happen through the platforms that we have created. So collaboration efforts with airlines, corporate houses and creating forums for generating business are the avenues that NTB puts its thrust on.
How do you see the state airlines in Nepal? As Turkish Airlines has started its flight to Nepal, what impact will it have in the overall tourist arrivals?
The state's national carrier is trying to recoup its image with supplementary fleets which might take some time, so other country's airlines are taking the opportunities accruing in our sky. In this connection, the Turkish airlines will bridge the gap existing now to connect Europe and America. Its wide network would provide ample leeway to the prospective travelers and thus, help increase traffic to and from Nepal. Turkey's geographical location, as a gateway to Europe would be a boon, subject to its competitiveness in service and offers.
As this is going to be the elections year, don't you think it will have an impact on the tourist arrivals?
Tourism is a trade which prefers to thrive during tranquility. Therefore, there would be certain calmness in travel but Nepal has undergone many turbulences and elections in the past so, irrespective of all these situations, the people of Nepal and businessmen here have exemplified their maturity in imparting confidence and proved their credibility during the times of crisis so, die hard or repeat travelers wishing to visit here will again visit anticipating these things keep on happening here. And, please note that repeat visitor's stake in total tourism is almost 40% and most of them are influenced by the promotion by word of mouth.
Nepal has been traditionally relying on same products. Don't you think that the time has come to go with new products in international market?
I do agree but whose job is it to create new products or services? The government only intervenes through policy changes and private sectors do or create a business. So, creation or innovation should come from private business players. That does not mean that Government has no role but it should provide security, energy, exemptions, building necessary supporting infrastructure etc. And private sector should apply its discretion, astuteness and acumen by repackaging or reinventing the products. Because, they make profit government only expects welfare through taxes raised. So, there is a need of collaboration to create a win-win situation from all sectors including NTB.