How do you see the state of tourism now?
It has been passing through a very crucial time as over 80 percent hotels are on the verge of closure due to the decline in the number of tourists. Earthquake and blockade have had a very negative impact on tourism. These two events sent a negative message globally. Nepal was seen as a country with no petroleum products, and a lot of hardships. The publicity given to the earthquake badly damaged the image of Nepal globally. It is unfortunate that even the big media carried reports that would damage Nepal’s image.
What are you doing now?
We have been making efforts, alongside the government, to portray the positive image of Nepal through media campaigns and so on. I admit that the campaign is not as effective as it needs to be. Even after the earthquake, 95 percent hotels are in operation and there is not much damage in their buildings. Yes, some temples and heritage sites were damaged. In a larger context, earthquake has not damaged as much as it was projected. We were unable to launch the counter measures saying that Nepal was safe and normal for travel.
What went wrong?
As Nepal was in the process of recovery from the earthquake, the blockade has damaged us again. There are plans and programs for damage control. However, the implementation part is very poor.
Are there ways to recover the damage made in the last few months?
There are ways. However, we don’t have the will. Natural disasters are regular phenomenon and no country is safe and secure from it. However, countries like Thailand and Indonesia recovered well within a short period of time. We can also do it but we need to work in a concerted manner.
What do you suggest?
We need to start from smaller things. For example, landing and other fees at TIA are one of the most expensive in the world. Thus, many airlines deny flying. If the government reduces the landing and takeoff taxes for a few months, it will encourage other airlines to fly. Our airport does not have enough facilities also. As our national flag carrier is yet to establish its credibility, there is the need to operate more international flights to bring more tourists. Thus, there is the need to waive the current taxes of landing and parking.
How do you see the government’s decision to waive the visa fees to Chinese tourists?
This is a very positive decision. HAN has already welcomed it. However, the decision was taken at the central level and the government needs to go for a massive campaign to disseminate the information. We need to waive the visa fees for other tourists also. This will give a message that Nepal is ready for tourism. One tourist provides employment for 11 people directly and indirectly. We discussed so many times with prime ministers and ministers but they are not coming with us. We know the limitation and constraints of the government but this is the time to take decision and guide the nation. We need to make some visible changes. The officials are doing nothing more than giving the lip service. That is the problem.
Has government announced any compensation program for hotel industry?
Hotel is a brand and this is a two-way traffic. The hotels are the landmark of any city like Soaltee, Annapurna, Radisson, Shangri-La or Hyatt. Thus, we cannot shut down the hotels. We are compelled to operate hotels even while incurring losses. Once we shut down the hotels, we will be nowhere in the radar.
How do you see the government’s recent decision to establish 100 billion rupees recovery fund?
One of the positive parts of the current government is the announcement of 100 billion rupees recovery fund. As per our demand, the government has announced this. The process of getting loan in cheap interest rate is very complex.
Don’t you think the government has also certain difficulties?
We know the government is also in a difficult position with its hands tied. It can only announce programs and implement them.
How do you look at the appointment of new CEO in NTB?
So far as the Nepal Tourism Board is concerned, it was a defunct organization for such a long period of time. Finally, the board has got now a new CEO. I think things will change now.
Which sectors does Nepal need as its priorities?
Our destination should be India and China as these two destinations are important for Nepal’s tourism sector. We need to carry out programs in these two destinations in a war footing. Chinese are celebrating the New Year in February and many Chinese go out for traveling. We need to work out for this. This is the time to do something. We have to encourage arranging the visit by our ministers. Many Chinese do not know about the visa waiver. Similarly, Nepal also needs to carry out campaign to lure the Indian tourists saying that Nepal is safe and secure.
How big are the markets in India and China?
India and China are two closest and big markets for Nepal. These two markets need to be revived. Nepal is a relatively cheap destination. If we take immediate steps, there is a possibility to increase the number of tourists. All the tourism fraternity, including the HAN, has been saying this for a long time. We have already seen three ministers since earthquake but nothing is materializing. We are expecting the seriousness of the government.
Nepal is said to be a very expensive destination because of air fare, how can we improve this?
This is absolutely right that our national flag carrier is weak and our airport does not have facilities. Now, Nepal is not supplying ATF to the foreign aircrafts and they have to carry out the fuel from their original destinations. We have discussed this issue with the private airlines and suggested ways.
What should Nepal do now?
Nepal needs to launch the campaign showing that Nepal is a safe destination for all the tourists. We need to launch this through international media like CNN, BBC and others. A recent good news is that a reputed international magazine declared Nepal a No.1 place to visit. We need to cash in on this positive coverage. But it is very difficult to get tickets to fly because of scarcity of flights.
What is the main problem?
One of the major problems is that our implementation side is very poor. We talk but do little when it comes to implementation.
How do you see the year 2016?
I see the coming year is positive. Nepal has certain endowments which can make it saleable in global markets. Our tourism has unique products with nature and culture and cheap destinations. We need not to go to America and Europe as there are a lot of potential visitors in our neighborhood. There are lots of people in China and India who are willing to visit Nepal.