Ram Chandra Sharma is a young and energetic tourism entrepreneur in Pokhara. He is the President of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) Western Regional Association and managing director of Blue Planet Lodge and Blue Planet Trekking and Expedition. Rajiv Joshi of TOURISM NEWS DIGEST (TND) recently talked with Sharma on different aspects of tourism industry of Pokhara. Excerpts:
TND: Please tell us about the scenario of tourism industry in Pokhara?
Sharma: Tourism industry of Pokhara, like rest of the country, is suffering due to political instability in the country. Natural disasters, like the blizzards in the Annapurna Region in October 2014, have severely affected tourism in Pokhara. Banda and strikes have dented our tourism image. Tourism industry of Pokhara is also suffering in the absence of direct connectivity to the rest of the world and dependency on Kathmandu. For example, the recent closure of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu badly hit tourism in this lake city.
Nevertheless, we have been seeing new investments in hotels and other tourism infrastructures.
TND: What is TAAN-Pokhara doing for the development of tourism in Pokhara?
Sharma: TAAN Pokhara has always been working for the development of tourism in Pokhara. We are working toward developing new trekking trails. Our focus is also on making trails trails safe so that trekkers do not have to face any problem. Also, we have been providing various trainings for our members as well as tourism workers to enhance their professionalism.
TND: Trekking routes in Annapurna Region are shortening with the construction of roads. Are you exploring new destinations to offer something new to trekkers?
Sharma: Yes. Popular trekking trails in the Annapurna Region are shortening with the construction of roads. Trekking package of three weeks can be done in less than a week today. We are not against construction of roads; they are important. But haphazard constructions have badly affected tourism sector. This has not only shortened trekking trips but also created negative impacts on environment.
Realizing that our trails are getting shorter, we are also trying to identify, explore and promote new trails as Pokhara and surrounding areas have immense tourism potentials. But shortage of fund and ongoing melee in Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has affected our works.
TND: TAAN Pokhara collects TIMS fee in Pokhara. How is the amount mobilized from TIMS spent?
Sharma: TIMS is implemented in coordination with three agencies – tourism ministry, TAAN and NTB. We are involved only in implementation part. We issue TIMS cards, collect revenue, set up check-posts along different trekking trails and manage them. Remaining amount goes directly to NTB. We used to receive a small share of TIMS revenue for administrative expenses in the past. But we have not been able to receive anything for the past few months die to problem in NTB.
We have been authorized to spend amount collected from TIMS for development of trails, and manage check-posts and its administrative expenses. We had been investing the fund accordingly. But we are not receiving any fund at present.
TND: Illegal operation of trekking business is increasing in recent years. What is TAAN Pokhara doing to control it?
Sharma: We had seen individuals and unauthorized firms operating groups in trekking areas in the past. But it has declined significantly over the past few months due to our regular inspections in major trekking trails. Our check posts have played significant role in reducing illegal operation of trekking business.
TND: It is often said that hoteliers in Annapurna Region raise price of food items in an arbitrary manner. What is TAAN Pokhara doing to control this?
Sharma: It is true up to some extent. But the trend is gradually declining. We have hold different round of talks with local hoteliers. Not only price, we are holding talks with local hoteliers on other issues like safety and hygiene.
TND: Talks of international airport in Pokhara have been doing rounds for the last many years. Where has the work reached? How optimistic are you regarding the airport?
Sharma: As you said, we have been hearing people talk about international airport in Pokhara for the past many years. We have seen some developments in recent years. Various high level visits have been made. We are very much optimistic regarding the project.
Tourism of Pokhara has always been affected due to dependency on Kathmandu for foreign tourists. With direct connectivity, we will definitely get more foreign tourists in Pokhara.
How is the relation of TAAN Pokhara with other travel trade associations in Pokhara?
Sharma: We enjoy cordial relationship with other travel trade associations of Pokhara. As all these associations have common objective of promoting tourism in Pokhara, they must have good relation and coordination.
TND: Any parting remarks?
Sharma: Tourism is one of the major foreign currency earners as well as the largest employers of the country. But we have felt that tourism laws, rules and policies are not favorable to the private sector. We should all work toward making friendly laws and policies so that not only Pokhara but tourism in other parts of the country can prosper.