Suman Pandey is the president of Pacific Asia Travel Association, (PATA) Nepal Chapter. Pandey, who has over 30 years of experience in Nepali tourism industry, is the managing director of Explore Himalaya Travel & Adventure, and CEO of Fishtail Air. He is involved in number of tourism businesses. It is under Pandey’s relentless efforts that Nepal is hosting Himalayan Travel Mart in Kathmandu on June1-4, 2017. Image Nepal talked to Pandey to know more about the mart. Excerpts:
You had been lobbying hard for Himalayan Travel Mart (HTM). Now, your hard work is finally paying off. How do you feel?
Despite all the adversaries, I am happy that it is finally going to happen. I am also relieved in a sense that I have managed to see off all the challenges. I am a bit as it is yet to be completed. To put in a nutshell, the mart has given us a chance to learn new things.
What actually is Himalayan Travel Mart?
HTM is a tourism promotional event which provides an effective platform for a niche destination like Nepal which can neither spend large amount of money for tourism promotion to create world attention, nor intervene in the international market on its own. So, HTM is an event which can yield higher outcomes with little investment.
We can get buyers from our consumer market at a minimal investment. We can interact one to one with those buyers. During the B2B session of HTM, a seller can interact with 30 buyers. They will be given twenty minutes for the one to one meet. If the sellers are able to crack some deals, than it can be a big achievement for them.
HTM can also be taken as a learning platform for people initiating marketing strategies and a confidence building opportunity for the newcomers.
Are the sellers from the entire Himalayan countries or only Nepal?
Not only Himalayas, our travel trade operators have been selling packages of the entire Himalayan range in Tibet, Bhutan and India as well. We are also the pioneer in tourism in the region. International market too feels the same way. So, we thought of branding the entire Himalayan region rather than confining inside within our boundaries. We are trying to sell Himalayas as a product in the international market.
We have sellers from Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, India and Pakistan as well as some guest sellers from Indonesia.
Where are the buyers from?
Initially, we had prepared a list of more than 150 buyers. From them, we have finalized 70 buyers from around 30 countries.
Bloggers meet is also one of the major attractions of HTM. Can you tell us something about the participants?
The major attraction of the mart is the B2B session. Through this, we want to disseminate the message that we are organizing such marketing event in our own initiative. As part of the mart, we will also be organizing Himalayan Travel Conference. There will be two session — Himalayan Tourism, and Innovation and Marketing. World class and prolific speakers are slated to give lectures during the session, which is an opportunity for us to learn new things.
To cash in on the growing popularity of digital media, we initially thought of organizing a bloggers meet. But the response from bloggers was more than what we had anticipated. Now we having bloggers from all over the world. It is becoming the major attraction of this meet. From over 250 applicants, we have shortlisted more than 90 bloggers and vloggers and sent invitation to them. I am hopeful that the bloggers conference will promote Nepal and the mart effectively in the digital media.
Are all of them hosted and sponsored by the organizers?
We don’t have such resources. Our focus is getting bigger outcomes from little investments. We have offered air ticket on a complimentary basis to some bloggers as well as buyers. Airline companies like Air India, Thai Airways and Turkish Airlines have supported us by providing us free tickets as well as attractive discounts. Air Arabia has also provided special fares for participants from the Middle East and Central Asia. Many corporate houses, banks, insurance companies and Airbus Helicopters, among others, have provided cash sponsorship. We are trying to generate more revenue from sponsorship to put fewer burdens on the government.
How has been the response from the industry?
We have received a good response from buyers as well as bloggers. But we have found that the response from the Nepali tourism industry is rather slow. But it was a blessing in disguise. It would have been tough short listing Nepali companies. Thankfully, we got the required number of applications only. We have already met our targets for buyers, sellers and bloggers. Our focus right now is making the event a grand success as the continuity of the event is based on its outcomes.
You said the response from the industry was rather slow. But you have managed to bring many travel trade associations onboard. How?
During my thirty years in the tourism industry of Nepal, I always have led the industry in various capacities. I know people in the industry very well. Some people may not like my ways of working, but I don’t think that they have doubts on my honesty and dedication. We tried a lot to convince our travel trade associations and today they have come onboard which is very positive. I have a challenge of conducting the event despite all the adversaries. We can even see similar events declared by the private sector as well as the government being cancelled.
Private sector didn’t seem to be confident toward the event initially. But as the mart nears, we are getting increasing number of enquiries. This might have resulted after the interest from various international buyers and other participants and delegates.
How is PATA headquarters supporting the event?
Encouraging words from PATA headquarters have boosted our confidence. PATA has given recognition to this event. It has even ensured participation of high dignitaries and speakers from the PATA headquarters. Above all, the event will be promoted through officials channels of PATA which is a very good thing for the industry.
You have been participating in various travel marts and fairs worldwide. How is HTM different from other ongoing events?
Nepal is the gateway to the Himalayas, and it is also diversified in terms of terrains and landscapes. Our main motive is to integrate the strength of not only Nepal but the entire Himalayan region. The entire Himalayan region is going to the international arena under the leadership of Nepal. Once the event concludes, it will create a buzz in the international arena and the world will be able to know that Nepal is taking an initiative for promoting tourism in the Himalayas. HTM can also be a milestone for Nepal’s tourism as it will be hosting a large number of international delegates, travel professionals and bloggers. It will also help to relay some positive messages of Nepal.
How has been the government’s help?
The mart was first conceptualized in 2005. But we had to wait all these years to finally organize this event. There are various travel trade associations working in Nepal and each one has interest and expertise of their own. So, we took the initiative and tried hard to materialize the concept. We are also aware of the fact that the government should take ownership of events like there. If the government takes the ownership, the private sector would be ready to implement it.
The government is hosting the mart, while NTB is the main organizer. PATA Nepal Chapter is the executive organizer of the event, while other travel trade associations are the co-organizers.
What is your estimated budget?
Initially, we had planned to invite about 100 buyers, bloggers and delegates. For this, we had calculated the budget at Rs 50 million. We had approached the government for funds accordingly. Now that we are accommodating more bloggers, buyers and delegates, the estimated cost is expected to climb to Rs 70 million. But budget is not concern for us right now. We have having problems in finding the appropriate venue to host the event. If we are to organize events of larger scale, we need to have bigger venues. We lack such venues.
What are the challenges in organizing the event successfully?
Nepal has long been going through transition period and we have been lacking professionalism in working. We are also facing problems with working procedures of the government and its bodies, which has also come up as a great challenge in terms of budgetary allocations. We may have some problems with our weather patterns, ticketing issues and timely budget allocations for the event. We are working hard to meet the challenges and make the event successful.
You said earlier that the tourism industry, initially, was not much responsive towards the event. Is it because of high participation fee or is it the lack of confidence towards the event?
I think it is because of the lack of confidence. I don’t think participation fee is the reason as Nepali companies have been participating in global events like ITB and WTM. I don’t think participation fee is the reason as Nepali companies have been participating in global events like ITB and WTM. Registration fee of US$ 1,000 is not that high. Unlike other marts, you don’t have to buy air tickets, book hotel rooms and make other traveling expenses. Maybe because Nepali companies perceived that we won’t be able to bring quality buyers.
Can you assure us on the continuity of the event?
We conceptualized it as an annual event. We – the entire tourism industry – are for organizing the event on a regular basis. I want to tell you we will spare no effort to organize the event next year as well and the year that follows. Though PATA Nepal Chapter has taken the initiative for the inaugural event, I want the government to take the ownership. Money is not a problem. We need to have intention. I request all the industry people to join hands and put pressure on the government and the NTB to organize the mart on a regular basis. One time investment won’t yield anything.
I won’t say PATA should be given the responsibility of implementing the event on behalf of the government. It could be any association. But we would be happy to organize the event if the government asks us to.