As Nepal’s tourism sector is heading to a target to bring over 2 million tourists, Secretary General of Hotel Association Nepal Binayak Shah spoke to New Spotlight about the target. Excerpts:
How do you bring two millions tourists in Nepal?
Let’s start from gastronomy tourism as this is one of the well-known areas in the tourism sector. If we talk about bringing two million tourists, this could be one of the sectors to explore. It offers a sizable business. Over one third of tourist visits European countries like Italy, Greece, Germany, and France to consume the local food. Many American, Japanese and Chinese tourists visit Europe. In a similar way, other European tourists visit Japan, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Malaysia and China to taste their foods. With so many varieties of Nepalese food items, Nepal can also explore this market, offering visitors the taste of Nepal’s indigenous food. Food is gaining international popularity. In Germany, large numbers of tourist visit on special occasions like October Fest. There was a record of visit of 66 million to taste local sausage.
How do you see the types of food?
With so many festivals and cultural events, Nepal too offers a large number of foods. Foods are the foundation of festivals. As the cultures are diverse and so are festivals -- there is a diversity and variation in foods. However, we are unable to link tourism and gastronomy. Lately, some local Nepalese foods like Dal-Bhat are getting popular in trekking circuits and Momo in urban areas. Sadly, even Nepalese do not know much about the Nepalese food. Looking at the prospect of the Nepalese food, we have started to work to promote Nepalese food. Under the visionary tourism entrepreneur Karna Shakya, Hotel Association Nepal and Nepal Tourism Board , Chefs Association and REBAN have started work in this area.
Have you collected the indigenous food items?
We have collected local indigenous food items, almost 200 different kinds of food. Now we are working to globalize the food. In the first step, the committee has set ingredients as criteria. This means ingredients of such food should be available in all parts of the world. We also modified food to fit for foreigners and scientifically proven their value. Out of 200, we selected 28 food items including five soups, 5 appetizers, 13 main courses and five dressers. They met all three criteria and we have certification given by Nepal’s food lab.
How many food items are selected in all?
In the first round, we have developed a video of 28 items which is available in youtube. Nepal Tourism Board is also supporting the efforts, campaigning for global recognition. We are marketing the food through NRNs. There are NRNs in 90 countries and most of the NRNs are operating restaurant businesses. We are receiving a very good response from NRNs. Recently, Everest, a Nepali Restaurant, started to supply Nepali food. Similarly, a Nepali Entrepreneur has started a Momo Mania in Australia. People have been launching different food items. Nepalese hotels and restaurants are also adding Nepali foods. Gastronomy tourism will be a component for Visit Nepal 2020. The beginning is very good and it will bring more mileage. We are planning to hold the food festival.
How do you see the proposed Visit Nepal 2020?
It is a good move to give the message that Nepal is already back in the business following the earthquake. Due to our campaign, the government agreed to launch Visit Nepal 2020. With the stable government in power, we are expecting to see positive changes.
Do you think it will be possible to bring 2 million tourists?
I think it is possible to bring 2 million tourists. However, there is the need to enhance our existing infrastructure. This is positive but there are challenges. We have not diversified projects. The time has come to diversify our destinations. All the seven provinces are tourism spots. All the provinces have beautiful place, diversity in culture, religions and people. Till now, only the tourism destinations of province 3, 4 and 5 are getting benefits from tourism. The government needs to develop an inventory and strategy to promote all spots. Tourists visit Nepal to see 2000 years’ old culture and adventure. There is the need of branding the country. Nepal needs to brand for its image. This should come from the policy level. There are 18 months left, however, the committee is yet to be set up. Our airport is saturated, we have to hold aircraft. Our connectivity of road is very poor in both the neighbors.
What do you require to bring more tourists from two neighbors by road?
There is also the need to make our borders tourist friendly. Indian tourists have to face hassles in Nepalese side of the border. We need to facilitate all the areas. In Kathmandu, there is the need to improve air quality. In the year 2017, Nepal received a record number of tourists in its 70 years long history, at 940000. The growth rate of 2018 was maintained. We will receive 1.2 million. Nepal has a number of places and festivals to attract tourists. Nepal is worshiping living goodness. We need to market it. We do have a lot of chariot festivals, Janaaki Mandir and Lumbini. We need to market each festival. There are many foreigners who love Nepal. We need to develop products.
How do you look at domestic tourism?
The current budget also emphasizes domestic tourism. To increase the domestic tourism, Nepal has an enormous opportunity. Many Nepalese from eastern and western parts are visiting Kathmandu. Interestingly, over 60 percent of tourists in Pokhara and Chitwan are from Kathmandu. Nepalese tourists are sustaining tourism in Pokhara and Chitwan. For instance, almost 5000 Nepalese tourists are visiting Rara and similar numbers are visiting Mustang. Nepalese have the zeal to travel. What we need to do is to encourage it.
Do you see the possibility of increasing Indian tourists?
Following the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal, there is a growing demand in India to visit Nepal. We need to capitalize on this. In India, the government provides allowances to its employees under a Leave Travel Allowance to visit any country for a week. Almost 6.4 million employees leave India. If we attract merely 2-5 percent, Nepal’s tourism sector will get a boost. Prime Minister Modi has announced Nepal as a destination.
Similarly, we have waived visa fees to Chinese tourists. This message should be disseminated throughout the country and the world.