Tapping domestic tourism

The success of the campaign hinges on how happily domestic tourists return from their holiday destinations. If they are happy, world of mouth publicity will help a lot in promotion of domestic tourism. If they return with bag full of complaints, word of mouth publicity will backfire.

The declaration of 2073 BS as ‘Ghumphir Barsha’ – the year of travelling – has brought positive vibes in the country. People have started showing desire to travel and travel trade entrepreneurs are already salivating over the business potentials that increased movement of domestic tourists bring. Domestic tourism is the mainstay of many countries all over the world. But it 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 holds great significance for the tourism industry of the country, which has been battered by the earthquakes of 2015 and the border obstructions, as it intends to keep major tourism destinations alive and kicking despite significant drop in number of foreign tourists. It is a known fact that tourism is a backbone of our economy. It is a duty of every Nepali to take care of this industry in this time of crisis.

Some say the campaign is a dress rehearsal for Visit Nepal Year 2018 – a yearlong tourism promotional campaign to bring more tourists to the country – which has already been declared. As part of the campaign, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has decided to conduct a wide promotional campaign to encourage Nepalis to travel to different parts of the country. It has allocated Rs 2 million to carry out promotional activities of the campaign. Similarly, it is encouraging tour operators to develop special packages, targeting domestic travellers. It is also helping in promotion of such packages. The tourism promotional body has suggested to the government to allocate a separate budget for travel leave concessions for government employees in the next fiscal year. Besides, the NTB has also planned to encourage the corporate sector to provide travel leave holidays to their employees.

Though there is no data of domestic tourism in Nepal, travel trade entrepreneurs say that movement of Nepalis in tourism related activities is on the rise owing to young travellers and adventure lovers who are exploring new ways of recreation. According to them places like Pokhara, Chitwan, Muktinath and the Annapurna Circuit, among others, have been receiving a large number of domestic visitors.

According to NTB officials, a booklet describing tour packages developed by travel and tour operators will be distributed across the country. They are hopeful that Nepalis can be inspired to travel by offering them attractive yet affordable tour packages. Similarly, travellers will be offered schemes and incentives for the promotion of new destinations.

Ghumphir Barsa is the first of its kind campaign initiated by the government for domestic tourism promotion. The government successfully observed Visit Nepal Year campaign 1998, while the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 was a mixed bag. The total number of tourists received in 1998 was 463,684. Among of them 103,895 tourists visited Pokhara and 72,528 travelled to Chitwan.  Likewise, 112,644 enjoyed trekking in different parts of the country.

Similarly, Nepal Tourism Year 2011 was observed for spreading the message of peace and stability after the end of decade-long political insurgency in Nepal. Despite the target of welcoming one million visitors, only around 730,000 visitors entered the country during the Nepal Tourism Year 2011. According to statistics provided by Tribhuwan International Airport (TIA) Immigration Office, Nepal observed aggregate growth of 21.4 percent in total tourist arrivals via air in 2011. A total of 544,985 tourists entered the country via air during the year — about 100,000 more than what the country had welcomed a year ago. Similarly, total arrivals through land routes reached 174,612. Despite all the odds, total arrivals, which is close to the target of one million, was regarded satisfactory by many.

The movement of Nepalis in destinations across the country is increasing with each passing year. Destinations like Pokhara, Chitwan and Lumbini get lot of domestic tourists during weekends and major festivals. Similarly, we can see hordes of Nepalis walking along popular trekking trails like the Ghandruk-Ghorepani, Annapurna Sanctuary, Annapurna Circuit, Everest Base Camp and Langtang Valley, among others. Not only within country, Nepalis have started holidaying abroad as well. Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, China and even European countries have emerged as popular destinations among Nepalis. Conservative estimates show thousands of Nepalis travel to foreign countries for merrymaking annually.These people can be encouraged to visit different Nepali destinations instead by devising special packages in Nepal itself and promoting new destinations. Rara, for example, is in bucket list of many Nepalis. But many of them do not know anything about the place. NTB and travel trade entrepreneurs should be able to tell them that Rara is not longer inaccessible like past. Similar is the case with Khaptad, Dolpa, Kanchanjunga and Makalu which hold immense tourism potential.

There are some important things that the implementing agency i.e. Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) should do to make the campaign successful. The first and foremost thing to do is take private sector into confidence. They are the sellers and sellers are good at attracting buyers i.e. potential tourists. A snap survey conducted by Tourism News Digest (TND) showed travel trade associations were not invited for meaningful consultations before launching the campaign. NTB should immediately invite private sector representatives for dialogues and encourage them to float attractive tour packages for Nepalis. If it needs any policy intervention in this direction, it should apprise the tourism ministry of it without further delay.
Second thing is, the government must implement travel concession leave for government employees without any delay. It would not only help the campaign but will also inculcate travel habit among people.

The government should also encourage corporate houses to offer such facilities to their employees. Instead of giving performance bonus in cash, corporate houses can offer holiday package to family of their best-performing staffers.

Third thing is, the government must control transporters’ syndicate who force people to board public vehicles. People having private vehicle would prefer to ride their vehicles whenever possible. Transporters syndicate often stop public buses not affiliated with them in their areas. We have seen transporters of Pokhara, for an example, breaking windowpanes of tourist vehicles just because they were carrying Nepalis. This isn’t going to help the industry. The tourism ministry and NTB should get rid of the situation immediately to facilitate unhindered movement of people throughout the country.

Last but not the least, tourism entrepreneurs should treat Nepalis on par with foreign tourists. We have heard many instances of tourism entrepreneurs preferring foreigners over Nepali guests. Many people that Tourism News Digest (TND) talked to said entrepreneurs were not willing to serve them until foreigners were served. Such act discourages potential travellers. Tourism entrepreneurs should start treating guests equally.

The success of the campaign hinges on how happily domestic tourists return from their holiday destinations. If they are happy, world of mouth publicity will help a lot in promotion of domestic tourism. If they return with bag full of complaints, word of mouth publicity will backfire.

Private sector is supportive to the campaign

sudhan-subedi
Sudhan Subedi, Officer, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB)

Nepalis have discovered the joys of travelling. We saw it even during the earthquake when lot of people travelled to different places for helping quake survivors. People have realized the benefits of holidaymaking. The campaign — Ghumphir Barsha 2073 — has been put forward raise awareness among people and encouraging them to make trips inside the country rather than frequenting to foreign countries.

Movement of Nepalis is increasing gradually in recent years. We can even see Nepalis off-the-beaten routes not frequented by foreigners. For instance, people in urban areas like Kathmandu or Pokhara can be seen visiting places in the outskirts of the city or out of the city during weekends or public holidays. Manakamana Temple, for example, attracts around 1.5 million domestic tourists per year which is a big number for a destination.

Frankly saying, response from the private sector was cold in the initial days. But we have seen positive responses in recent days. We can see some agencies bringing out packages for different destinations, targeting domestic tourists, which is a positive impact created by the campaign.

NTB is also collaborating with locals of various new destinations and promoting their products and services through its channels. We are also focusing on promotion of side destinations or the lesser known destinations. For example, large number of domestic as well as international tourists travel to Sauraha of Chitwan every year. But only a few of them have visit Amaltari – a nearby destination which is a famous for its homestay service.

Earlier, we could see disturbances in the movement of private vehicles in various parts of the country. But it is coming down gradually. We are hopeful that it will come to an end for good. If we will be able to create positive impact from the campaign this year, it will certainly give good outcomes for the coming years too.

We can even see corporate sectors being equally supportive toward the campaign. However, major concern at present is the service delivery to domestic tourists which is seemingly improving these days. Reason is the spending nature of Nepalis. We are also working on various plans and programs for improving services and quality in tourism sector. We have been providing various trainings and orientations to the entrepreneurs time and again which has also resulted in making people aware of domestic tourism.

Domestic tourism not only helps in keeping the industry running during crisis, but also helps in sustaining local economy. We can see villages in Nepal offering homestay services to their visitors. Some homestay services are launching attractive packages to attract more domestic tourists.

We are focusing more on social media campaigns and mass media campaigns for the promotion of this campaign. We are also pushing corporate houses and the government agencies for paid holidays to their staffers. We are very hopeful on getting good response from everywhere and also hope that the campaign would be a milestone for domestic tourism promotion.

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