How do you see the prospect of tourism in Nepal in the year 2015?
The year 2015 has begun with a few positive notes. The first good news is that at least four international airlines are flying shortly to Nepal sector, and Nepal Airlines will be having its new plane soon to fill the vacuum that has been created in its absence in the Nepalese tourism industry for a long time. The second one is that a few international deluxe chain hotels have already entered the Nepalese market with big bang and, it is expected that the construction of some of them will be finished by the end of this year. This kind of sea change has never been witnessed by Nepalese industry before. Also with the successful conclusion of 18th SAARC submit and upcoming BIMSTEC meeting preparation, successful conclusion of Power Trade Agreement (PTA) and Power Development Agreement (PDA) with India, a new era of confidence have been witnessed in the investment realms and this will provide ample leeway to promote Nepal's tourism industry in particular. Plus, Nepal Airlines procurement of two airbuses, travel costs to Nepal would be more competitive thus widening the passage of demand to Nepal.
What role the Nepal Tourism Board is going to play to promote Nepal?
The Nepal Tourism Board, as always, plays the role of a catalyst in promoting Nepal by imbibing the spirit of private-public partnership. Over the last few years, there is a paradigm shift in marketing approach in tourism despite its internal problems. Endeavour is on to embark with solid market specific programs. The traditional markets (USA, UK, Germany France, etc) will be fine tuned aligning with our available products and new markets would be calibrated with fusion of tools and strategies for reaping benefits. The traditional tools for promotion and marketing have been replaced by new and vibrant social media. So the Nepal Tourism Board is taking every opportunity available to promote Nepal by various means. It is keeping well abreast with social, marketing and promotional change that has affected the tourism industry positively and applying all kinds of gimmicks and approaches to capitalize such opportunity. Collaboration with NAC would be intensified with renewed efforts and thrusts.
After a long gap, NTB and tourism entrepreneurs come closer again, what impacts it will have in Nepal’s tourism sector?
The Nepal Tourism Board has never drifted away from the private sector. But the approach it undertook could be different in the past. The very existence of Nepal Tourism Board depends on twin pillar of parternships: one with the government and other with the private sector. If the tourism entrepreneurs, the government and Nepal Tourism Board put together their combine effort to promote Nepal, the result would be incredible. We are very optimistic about the outcome that a close partnership between tourism entrepreneurs and Nepal Tourism Board would bring about. The synergy would be dealt with utmost sensation and new vigor and zeal would be created for sustainable result.
After a long gap, Nepal Airlines, the national flag carrier, is also increasing its flights after receiving the first new aircraft in February 2015. How will it help to increase the number of tourists in Nepal?
Travel industry has been benefited greatly where national carrier is strong, robust or vibrant and tourism industry friendly. Take the instance of year 2000, when Nepal Airlines carried 149749 international passengers to Nepal which is unfortunately reduced to 13523 in 2013. It speaks the bitter truth about our national carrier losing the game and remaining ashtray from the main market. If the Nepal Airlines operates in the tourist generating sectors, it will definitely yield positive results to the tourism industry of Nepal. Perhaps the strengthening of Nepal Airlines might check the unhealthy price competition of international airlines in Nepal sector. Nepal is expensive sector for travelers.
As Nepal’s tourism entrepreneurs are saying that they will lure a million tourists in Nepal, are there enough hotel room to accommodate them?
Nepal has already had enough hotels to accommodate 1 million tourists in Nepal. Our carrying capacity will increase considerably in the next few years after the completion of several world class deluxe star hotels in Kathmandu and beyond. A huge investment in hotels in Chitwan and Pokhara has been made which will surely ease the pressure that Kathmandu has to endure during the peak season. In my personal view, there would never be a dearth of rooms vis a vis the arrival number trends apparent today at least for few years to come mainly citing the existing position of international airports and other allied infrastructures needed to catapult this industry.
What policy Nepal Tourism Board has to promote the new destination for tourists in Nepal?
The Nepal Tourism Board has been promoting the concept of Wild West and Virgin East for a long time. It will give priority to new destination while promoting Nepal internationally through its massive promotional efforts, some along, some in collaboration with the befitting partners of home and abroad. It will leave no stone unturned to bolster its partnership with private sectors of home turf and collaborators of home and abroad in order to reap the benefits as per the need of the time.
Besides the traditional places which are already oversaturated, what new places Nepal has to offer for change?
Home-stay is one area that the Nepal Tourism Board has been promoting in the different parts of the country where the presence of hospitality industry is very limited. NTB will promote the destinations that are ready for hospitality businesses. Plus new areas with sufficient infrastructures will also be taken as a new product subject to if they are said to be ready for marketing by the private sectors for business. We should understand clearly that it is not NTB which announces some specific places for investment or doing business and the place becomes ready for catering. It is private entrepreneurs who should identify the places for future business and ask for its promotion to NTB.
How do you see the growing number of Chinese tourists? Besides the present destination, what new product Nepal has to offer Chinese tourists?
China tourists have been coming to Nepal for a decade; it was after 2009 that their numbers took off. The number of Chinese tourists increased sharply to 113,173 in 2013 from only 32,272 in 2009, a 250 per cent jump. Most young Chinese like to travel by themselves, they prefer to look up place to visit and stay, or airlines to fly online before they arrive. But we need to give them information in Chinese. We are working hard to reach them out through Chinese language promotional materials. Events like Pokhara Street Festival and Chitwan’s Elephant Festival would be huge attractions to Chinese tourists but promotional materials should be in Chinese. So far apart from www.welcomenepal.com, our website, no other website provides travel information in Chinese. Since most of the Chinese tourists prefer to have luxury transportation and accommodation, we need to consolidate the existing destinations with more Chinese friendly facilities rather than promoting ill-equipped destinations.
Following the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, number of Indian tourists is reportedly increased. Given the immense potential to lure Indian tourist, what NTD is doing now?
To capitalize the immense potentiality, the Nepal Tourism Board has geared up its promotional activities in India. It is taking part in every possible travel fairs taking place in India. Planning is underway to bring media Fam tours from India for promoting Nepal among consumers. We would adopt a two pronged approach to penetrate the Indian market: through travel trade and direct consumer marketing. It is learnt that the Indian government is preparing to include Nepal in its Leave Travel Concession policy for its employees . If it materializes, It would be a watershed moment for Nepalese tourism.
Despite several efforts, the length of stay has not increased much. How do you look at it?
One of the reasons for a shorter length of stay is that tourists have now less time to spend on their holidays due to very competitive life back home. Another reason is that the trekking days at Annapurna Circuit and some other trekking areas has been reduced considerably due to motorable road. Floating of lots of package programs nationally and internationally has also inspired shorter length of stay because packages usually are meant for shorter stays. One reason could be that many tourists come to Nepal in Nepal- Bhutan or Nepal-India or Nepal-Tibet package with crammed itinerary that hardly allow them to stay more in Nepal.
At a time when the spending of tourists is yet to increase, what needs to do to increase spending of tourists?
Apart from hotels, travel packages and airlines, in most of the place, tourists spend their money in Nepali currency. And, it directly affects on the spending capacity of a tourist in Nepal because of unfavorable currency exchange rate. Due to cut-throat competition, the tour/trekking/rafting packages are being sold in the under-cutting price. Another reason is that we don’t cater to many high-end tourists due to various reasons beyond our control may be anticipating the mis-match in offer and reaping value.
Do you have any plan to introduce new product in 2015?
Well as said earlier NTB does not do business but it inspires entrepreneurs to do business by effective promotion so new products are offered by the business entities so as such no specific offers except vibrant plans are in its cards.