“It Was Third Time Lucky For Australian Ambassador To Nepal To Finally Come Face To Face With A Nepali tiger,” said Australian Ambassador Peter Budd on his social media, including Twitter and Facebook, presenting his recent collection of photos of endangered rare wild animals like Royal Bengal Tiger, rhinos, elephants, birds, rivers and jungles and parks.
This was not his first trip. Last year, he went trekking in Annapurna Circuit with his family and posted photographs on his social media sites, widely projecting Nepal.
As Nepal is celebrating Visit Nepal Year 2020 amid a grand opening on January 1, 2020, the visit of Australian Ambassador to Nepal Budd to Bardiya National Park and his posting of the pictures on social media to broader people have their meaning.
Visiting different parts of Nepal, promoting Nepal’s nature, mountain and river, ambassador Budd has greatly contributed to Nepal's tourism sector. Because of his regular visits and love to Nepal, ambassador Budd may have seen the tiger very closely in Bardiya. This kind of encounter is rare.
“This week I had the privilege of visiting Nepal's beautiful Bardiya National Park for a quick break. It was third time lucky for @AusAmbNP, to finally come face to face with a Nepali tiger. Brilliant! #VisitNepal2020,” the ambassador tweeted.
As Nepal launched Visit Nepal 2020, how Nepal will market the enormous opportunities like that presented by ambassador Budd to global market will determine its success.
With the retirement of Chief Executive Officer Deepak Raj Joshi, an experienced hand of tourism sector, from Nepal Tourism Board just a week before the grand opening of VNY 2020 and delay in the completion of Gautama Buddha International Airport and incomplete work of expansion of Tribhuwan International Airport, some of these will likely affect the flight flow.
Outgoing CEO Joshi, in his interview, has made it clear that his retirement cannot make any difference to his active participation in the VNY 2020. "I have been actively working and supporting the team of VNY. I am retired from executive position but I am working with the teams," said Joshi. "We are mobilizing Nepal based heads of the mission to support us to make VNY 2020 a grand success."
Nepal based ambassadors from different parts of the world have been helping Nepal project its culture, festival and nature. Along with Ambassador Budd, others too have been taking initiative. Former Indian Ambassador to Nepal Manjeev Singh Puri published a book linking Nepal into a broader Sikh Heritage. Chinese ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanq recently posted pictures of Himalayas taken during her visit.
Fond of Nepalese cuisines, nature and culture, U.S. Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry regularly posts pictures and stories of his likes of Nepal’s festival and culture. In her recent posting, newly arrived British Ambassador to Nepal posted some pictures depicting Nepal.
Other European ambassadors have been supporting Nepal. Whether German Ambassador to Nepal, or ambassador of France to Nepal and EU ambassador, they have been highlighting Nepal.
In a recent national day reception, the spouse of ambassador of Finland to Nepal recited national Anthem of Nepal. All the ambassadors based in Nepal have been helping Nepal to promote the destinations.
At a time when the global economy has been passing through a major crisis resulting from the trade war between United States and China, it is not an easy task to bring two million tourists in Nepal.
Led by a very dynamic and committed minister Yogesh Bhattarai, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Nepal is making all preparations to achieve the target.
Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai has insisted on the need of support and cooperation from all quarters to make the Visit Nepal Year 2020 successful.
"I hope the year 2020 would prove an important one for the country's entire touristic development. Several programs are being implemented by Nepal's diplomatic missions abroad in support of the Visit Year. Tourism promotional programs are going on accordingly," said minister Bhattarai.
The civil aviation minister pledged to further systematize air service remaining as one of the major bases for tourism promotion. "Preparations are underway to operate the country's sole international airport, the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), round- the- clock. Currently, TIA operates 21 hours a day.
From the beginning, the budget crunch seems to affect the VNY. Though a budget of Rs 650 million was demanded for the promotion of Visit Year, the government allocated Rs 100 million.
Visit Nepal Year
Inaugurated by President Bidhay Devi Bhandari amid a function, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli urged all concerned stakeholders to make Happy Nepali and Prosperous Nepal through VNY 2020.
Chief ministers of all seven states also inaugurated the visit year from their respective State on the same day.
Similarly, Visit Nepal Year was also to be inaugurated at Nepali Embassy in foreign countries on January 7, while the Visit Nepal would be inaugurated through Non-Resident Nepali Association in countries where there is no Nepali Embassy, according to the Tourism Ministry.
Although the government has invited tourism ministers and senior delegates of 31 countries to the inaugural ceremony of the Visit Nepal year 2020, only half of them were expected to take part. They included 10 tourism ministers and senior delegates and media persons from more than 40 foreign media.
"By organizing the inaugural function in a grand manner, we were able to disseminate the message that Nepal is safe and attractive tourism destination," said Visit Year 2020 National Program Coordinator, Suraj Baidya.
According to him, the Visit Year inauguration program was a big international level program after the 13th South Asian Games which concluded recently.
Spending Rs. 20 million, the inaugural program was supposed to be grand. Coordinator Baidya revealed that total Rs 20 million was spent on the inauguration program. Due to the renting cost, the total cost reached that level. The daily rent of the Stadium would have been Rs 1.5 million.
Bhaktapur Municipality's mayor Sunil Prajapati said 93 monuments out of 116 in Bhaktapur which were damaged by the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake have been rebuilt, ready for the Visit Year.
He said that the Municipality will organize the Bhaktapur Festival from March 17 to 21 to supplement to the Visit Nepal Year 2020.
The Country is marking "The Tourism Year 2020" with the theme of Life Time Experience. The government and private stakeholders are working hard to make the campaign a success.
Lack Of Infrastructure
Despite so many products and sources, Nepal has been projected globally with rigid image or the place for adventurous tourism destination for trekking and mountaineering activities for long. Along with mountain, Nepal's heritage, culture diversity and life style, national park and wild lives are equally interesting.
"We need to expose our hidden treasures in the international arena to take economic benefits from the tourism industry. This is one of the reasons the overall theme of the Visit Nepal Year 2020 has been set as ‘life time experience.’ This message has positioned Nepal as unique and life time valued destination.
"Throughout the year of VNY 2020, Nepal is going to highlight four areas which include infrastructure, policy and incentive, awareness and internal promotion, and international promotion," said former CEO Joshi.
From the street of London to major tourist destinations including United States, European cities, India, China and other Buddhist countries, Nepal Tourism Board has been launching the theme of life time experiences since last one and half years as pre-launching.
Along with destination promotion program, the NTB and VNY have also launched consumer focused program to popularize Nepal making Nepal visible around the world. Not only Nepalese media, VNY 2020 is also placed in BBC and CNN prime ad portion. Nepal also utilized large portions of Nepal's diasporas and embassies around the world.
As VNY 2020 has started, the private sector has introduced some discount packages. Nepal's old and new star hotels and other businesses are offering special packages targeting the VNY 2020.
TIA In Full Operation
The completion of the rehabilitation of runway of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), two parking bays, is a game game changer. With some managerial improvement, TIA can now handle additional six to seven international flights.
If things go as scheduled, the Gautam Buddha International Airport is coming into operation from May 2020. This will provide strong base for the tourist arrival. According to an estimate, 16 to 18 international flights need to be added to meet the target of 2 million foreign tourists.
Similarly, the condition of roads connecting major tourism destinations and surroundings are not good. The government and the private sector are taking initiative to complete the maintenance work on these roads.
To promote Nepal as an all-time tourism destination, NTB is promoting culture, heritage and festivals as special products selling Nepal's pleasant weather.
The expenditure of tourism is not falling as shown in the government data. The decline in contribution of tourism revenue was only due to the leakage in various businesses through the digital payment system and unregistered services. To control it, the government should strengthen its digital smartness.
While talking about the contribution of tourism in gross domestic product (GDP), there is still no effective reporting system of tourism contribution. For the first time, NTB is maintaining tourism satellite account this year which will give the real picture of the contribution of tourism in GDP.
According to Nepal government, tourism is contributing 3 per cent to GDP. Tourism entrepreneurs disagree with the figure. "This is not a true picture. Tourism sector has been making contribution of more than double of that in GDP. The low contribution in GDP is due to lack of effective reporting system," said Shah.
"The government itself is not the sole agent to bring tourists, so Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), and we, stakeholders, are playing our active role to make the national event a success," said Khum Bahadur Subedi, president of Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN),
Traffic Congestion and Pollution
Although President Bhandari inaugurated VNY 2020 with a fanfare, the traffic congestion and air pollution are growing in Kathmandu. Due to traffic congestion, it takes almost an hour to cross six kilometers of road. Sometimes, it is much more harassing.
The road of Baudhanath, a world heritage site, is worse and driving to Baudhanath is painful for the people. With dust and traffic congestion, the pollution level in world heritage site is one of the worst.
Visiting Bhaktapur and Lalitpur by car or any tourist vehicle needs half a day. Traffic congestion in Kathmandu is worse.
"Who will come to visit your country given the present level of pollution?" asked an hotelier.
Along with improving other infrastructure, the immediate need is to make VNY 2020 to improve the quality of air and end the traffic congestion which is virtually impossible now.
"The biggest problem any tourist faces after coming out from the airport is pollution. Now we are in the situation to provide a mask with the facilitation to the tourists. The pollution in Kathmandu is unbearable for everyone and everyone can think of how it is creating problem to the tourists," said Subedi.
Recently numbers of hotels have drastically increased. With the entry of world brand new hotels, including Aloft Marriot, Marriot, Sheraton and Hilton, hotels are providing enough rooms. Aloft Marriot has been offering high quality hospitality in the heart of Kathmandu.
"We have sufficient hotel rooms and service for at least 2.5 million tourists but the problem is in providing sufficient flight seats. Managing flight seats to a large number of tourists is also another problem, which cannot be addressed soon. Road travel and road safety are other problems, which we need to resolve," said Binayak Shah, 1st Vice President Hotel Association Nepal. “We are always together with the government and the NTB as per the concept of public private partnership for the promotion of tourism."
First vice president of Hotel Association Nepal Binayak Shah also holds the view -- First and foremost is to cater more tourists is to improve the traffic congestion in Kathmandu, high pollution level. "Due to these two factors, tourists are diverting to other destinations."
Domestic tourism has now been playing an important role and they constitute a significant business of hotel. According to estimates, domestic tourists share 60 percent of tourists in Pokhara and Chitwan. Had not the number of Nepali tourists increased, hotel industries in Pokhara and Chitwan would have shut down a long time back.
"Given the importance of domestic tourism, VNY also needs to focus on this sector," said Shah.
From Kathmandu based ambassadors to other foreigners working in different walks of life and visitors, everyone has been promoting Nepal because of its diversity in culture, religion and festival.
As Nepal has launched VNY 2020 spending huge resource to attract 2 million tourists, there is the need to take many other initiatives including improving quality of air and road congestion to make people think the goal is possible.