Ghumphir 2073 Campaign: Domestic tourism off to a good start

Ghumphir campaign held a great significance for the tourism industry of the country which was battered by the earthquakes of 2015 and the border obstructions, as it kept major tourism destinations alive and kicking despite significant drop in number of foreign tourists.

The yearlong campaign of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) to promote domestic tourism – Ghumphir Barsha 2073 or travel year 2073 BS – has concluded. Though there are no tangible results to see, as the campaign did not have any set objectives, officials of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) – the national tourism organization that launched the campaign – argue that the campaign has brought many positive results. They say that the campaign, to some extent, has managed to inculcate travelling habit among Nepalese. Their claims cannot be rejected outright as we have seen many domestic destinations – Pokhara, Chitwan, Mustang, Manang, Rara, Khaptad and Annapurna Region to name a few – brimming with Nepalis. Whether or not the campaign has become successful, movement of domestic tourists to different tourist destinations has definitely increased.

The erstwhile Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli formally launched the campaign on April 26, 2016, amid a colorful ceremony in Kathmandu. He wrote ‘Welcome to Nepal’ on a map of Nepal to kick-start the campaign. The campaign was launched to revitalize the country’s tourism industry by encouraging Nepalis to travel as international tourist arrivals had taken a beating after the earthquakes of 2015. During the launch, NTB had also said that the yearlong campaign was a preparation for Visit Nepal Year 2018 campaign that the government was preparing to launch.

Domestic tourism is the mainstay of tourism for many countries all over the world. But in Nepal, domestic tourism is still at its nascent stage even though the country is rich in terms of natural and cultural attractions.  Hence, the main objective of the campaign is to bolster domestic tourism and make it capable enough of supporting country’s travel trade when foreign tourist footfalls fall.

Our tourism industry takes a severe beating every time foreign tourist arrivals fall.  Tourism entrepreneurs get panicked and start austerity measures like price undercutting which not only affects their business but also deteriorates country’s tourism branding. Had our domestic tourism been strong enough, they won’t have to adopt such measures. Ghumphir campaign held a great significance for the tourism industry of the country which was battered by the earthquakes of 2015 and the border obstructions, as it kept major tourism destinations alive and kicking despite significant drop in number of foreign tourists.

The domestic tourism is slowly rising in Nepal as more people are going out during the holidays. One such place that sees a huge number of tourists is the Chandragiri hill that is located on the outskirts Kathmandu valley. Lying just 16 kilometers away from Kathmandu, people can to take their day out from the city and go to this place for a getaway and also enjoy the cable car with wonderful hills around. The destination is also said to be an ideal place to visit for tourists with a free day in Kathmandu. Another destination seeing the rise in domestic tourists is Lo Manthang, nearby Mustang headquarters. Similarly, places elsewhere can also tap in the domestic tourists if it has any place of recreational, religious, scenic or any other touristic importance and also feasible distance and economy wise.

Domestic trekkers at the famous Poonhill in the Annapurna Region. Picture Amit Khakurel

Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has claimed that 4.2 million Nepalis moved to different domestic nations in the first nine months of the year. It expects the number to increase by 20 percent in the remaining three months. However, it doesn’t have any data to support this claim. But NTB officials point to beeline of Nepalis in popular tourist destinations like the Annapurna Region and Rara which was frequented by only the international tourists in the past.

If what NTB claims is true, Nepali tour operators now has a very promising market. Many operators specializing in domestic tourism have already seen a surge in their clientele. Similarly, new and emerging destinations like Kaulepani of Lamjung and Amaltari of Nawalparasi are getting hordes of Nepalis during weekends and school holidays. “Each household in Amaltari has been drawing an average of Rs 25,000 a month which is a very good return,” shared an officer of NTB. “The salient feature of domestic tourism is that Nepalis are high spending and they splurge their money on local food, liquor and souvenirs.

The increasing movement of Nepalis has prompted hoteliers and tour operators to launch some packages for this segment which is very encouraging,” he added. According to NTB, Pokhara hotels receive good number of Nepalis during weekends and long holidays. The officer thinks lack of infrastructure is the major constraint for domestic tourism. “There should be good roads and good transportation facilities. Transporters’ syndicates must be scrapped altogether,” he suggests.

Different travel trade associations had floated seven packages — Haleshi Mahadev Darshan Tour (SAGARMATHA  ZONE), Historical City Jankapur Dham (JANAKPUR ZONE), Biratnagar-Koshi Tappu-Dharan-Dhankuta-Hile (KOSHI ZONE), Devi Pathibhara Darshan (MECHI ZONE), Khaptad Tour (SETI ZONE), Lumbini-Swargadwari-Pyuthan (LUMBINI ZONE), and Rara Tour (KARNALI ZONE) – for domestic tourists. But the number of people buying the packages is very low, according to NTB.

Hotelier Ajaya Sthapit, who runs Lumbini Garden Hotel in Lumbini, however, says he doesn’t think the campaign itself has made any impact. “We have seen increased movement of Nepalis in domestic destinations. But it is not because of the campaign. Nepalis were travelling in the past, travelling now and will continue to travel in future as well,” he added. “We should raise awareness, design products and services, and promote them effectively through the right channel if we are to promote domestic tourism.” Sthapit thinks more Nepalis can be encouraged to travel by promoting new destinations, launching new packages and offering competitive rates.

Yam Bahadur Khadka, the former president of Society of Travel and Tour Operators –Nepal (SOTTO-Nepal), is all praises for the campaign. “This year we have seen a very good response from Nepalis. I think the campaign should be taken as a stepping stone. The government and the NTB should do more for promotion of domestic tourism,” Khadka added. Talking about tour packages for Nepalis, Khadka say many Nepalis still prefer to travel without taking the service of tour operators. “They make inquiry about the package but travel on their own. This habit should be changed. They should buy travel packages to avoid disappointments like not finding room or not getting quality services,” he added. Khadka also suggested to the government and the NTB to explore and promote new destinations. “Most of the Nepalis are travelling to Pokhara, Chitwan, Mustang and Rara. We should offer them more options so that the momentum is continued,” added Khadka.

Basudev Pandey, the general secretary of Village Tourism Promotion Forum-Nepal, said the campaign has brought some visible changes in the country’s tourism scenario. “The campaign has also laid bare the fact that there is lot more to do in terms of promoting domestic tourism. Along with creating a conducive travel environment, there is a need to float innovative yet affordable packages targeting domestic tourists,” he added. He also said that the campaign has been an eye-opener of sorts for the tourism entrepreneurs. “We (tourism entrepreneurs) used to prefer foreigners over Nepalis. Now, we know that Nepalis spend as much as foreigners if not more,” he said: “We no longer read news reports of Nepalis mistreated by hoteliers along trekking trail. Now they know where the money is. It is one of the impacts of the Ghumphir Barsha campaign.” He further added that the government, the NTB and the private sector should realize that domestic tourism is a big market. “To tap this market, we need to explore new destinations, bring innovative packages, and offer attractive rates,” he suggested.

Deepak Raj Joshi, the CEO of NTB, said that the Ghumphir 2073 campaign came as an eye opener for the tourism industry and that it has made the industry stakeholders clear on the dynamics of domestic tourism. “The campaign was started to keep the tourism industry, hit by the earthquakes and blockades along the southern border, active. It has brought some positive results and even gave some lessons. We used digital platforms to promote this campaign to tap the youths. It has yielded positive results,” added Joshi. “I think the campaign has created some positive vibes and people now seem to be more aware about travelling.”

According to Joshi, Rara Lake in mid-western Nepal, which used to receive just around 5,000 tourists annually, received more than 40,000 domestic tourists this year. “Looking at this statistics, we can say that Nepalis have started travelling now,” he added. “We have felt the need for tour packages tailored for domestic tourists. If there is attractive package at affordable rates, movement of domestic tourists will increase further.”

He also said that the NTB was working on some mechanism to collect statistics of domestic tourists. “Hopefully, it will come into implementation very soon,” he said, adding: “It will help us to design new packages for Nepalis.” Joshi also said that the NTB will study the outcomes and shortcomings of the campaign and improve them accordingly in the coming years.

Ghumphir 2073 campaign is just a beginning. Domestic travel is still at its nascent. But good thing is it is growing steadily. We can see hordes of Nepalis travelling, enjoying trekking trips and indulging in all sorts of activities like foreign tourists. Still, they are not buying tour packages. They love to travel on their own. This is one thing that domestic tourists change to avoid disappointment of not getting quality accommodation to the destinations that they are traveling. Tourism entrepreneurs should also stop preferring foreign tourists over Nepalis. They should treat both Nepalis and foreigners equally. If Nepalis are ignored in favor of foreign tourists, they won’t be going to that place again. The government also needs to stop transporters’ syndicate so that one can take buses, jeeps and cars to any parts of the country without any hindrance. If we have a strong domestic tourism, our industry need not suffer if foreign tourist arrivals fall. All the stakeholders of the tourism industry should realize this fact, and act accordingly.

(Main Picture Courtesy: Sudhigya Pant)

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