Deepak Raj Joshi is the Chief Executive Officer of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). He was appointed to the post through open competition on December 17 last year. Joshi has a herculean task of leading Nepali tourism, which has been battered by the earthquakes of April 2015 and Indian blockade, toward recovery. Rajiv Joshi of Tourism News Digest (TND) talked to Joshi to know about his plans. Excerpts:
TND: You have completed 100 days at the office. How was the experience?
Joshi: Though there were lots of limitations and challenges, it was satisfactory. Working environment in Nepal is not so easier. It is very hard to manage time for something important as we get engaged with many things that are not even needed. This is a very bad experience.
TND: So, how do you intend to face those limitations and challenges?
Joshi: I have taken challenges as motivation because this is the time when we need to work hard. It is not a normal time. I take it positively; we need to face challenges as a challenge. Therefore I am quite encouraged.
TND: NTB is understaffed. How are you dealing with the situation?
Joshi: Yes. It is one of the major problems that we have been facing. We are a national tourism organization and we need to look after the national and international tourism promotions. But we have just around 20 staffers here. It is becoming very difficult for us to function effectively. That is why we are implementing our programs and activities in partnership with the private sector, non-resident Nepalis and different diplomatic missions. We are working in partnership with different stakeholders and are trying to continue it in the coming days as well.
TND: As someone at the helm of NTB, how do you see the situation of Nepali tourism industry? What are the obstacles?
Joshi: The main thing that we should do is to change the perception among foreign tourists that Nepal is unsafe and that it is not the right time to visit the country. For changing this perception, we need to do aggressive marketing and communicate the right message. This is our first priority. Secondly, we need to enhance our destination quality. It’s a necessity because we have been receiving complains about food, hygiene, water quality and hospitality. If we are to attract quality tourists, we should not be compromising on service. This is the major area we need to focus. Thirdly, though enterprise entities are booming, there has been no innovation in product packaging, development, and no better enhancement in services. There is unhealthy competition and price war among tourism service providers. This not only reduces tourism revenue but also reduces number of quality tourists, and ultimately deteriorates our destination image.
TND: We have been participating in different international trade fairs. Recently you participated in ITB Berlin. How was the visitor’s response there?
Joshi: For sometime after the earthquake, the major concerns and queries used to be about the earthquake. But it has been changed now. It seems like people have already forgotten about the earthquake and blockades. Therefore we are hopeful about the upcoming season. People, who we met at ITB Berlin, also complained about the high travelling cost. To address this, we should have more flights to major tourist generating markets.
Events like these help to promote the presence of destination in international tourist map. Travel community around the world are present in these events. We get opportunity to communicate our message through the right channel. WTM and ITB are among the world’s biggest fairs. If we can communicate the right message in these events, it will be communicated to the world. Therefore platforms like these are very important for tourism promotion.
TND: While assuming office, you said that 2016 will be the year of survival. What is NTB doing in this direction?
Joshi: We are putting lots of efforts in this direction. We have been meeting diplomats, attending travel fairs, initiating digital marketing campaign, and establishing connection between Nepal loving communities all over the world. We have been spreading the right message through the right channel. We even made the Prince Harry’s visit more tourism friendly. What I think is tourism would have recovered a lot had there been no border obstruction and fuel crisis. I believe the coming autumn season will be great.
TND: US and UK recently lifted negative travel advisory. How much does this impact?
Joshi: It impacts a lot. For those living in that region, who thinks Nepal is not safe, the travel advisory will relay the message that Nepal is back to normal. We can use this news to encourage people to visit Nepal in other forums as well.
TND: How have you found the reaction of international agents?
Joshi: They are concerned. They want Nepal to recover as soon as possible. We are even trying to do some collaboration with them. I have found them supportive and encouraging.
TND: Movement of Nepalis in tourist areas is increasing in recent years. What are your plans to promote domestic tourism?
Joshi: We are starting an initiative for domestic tourism promotion very soon. We are hopeful that this will be a very strong initiative for the promotion of domestic tourism. Initially, we will do orientation for the sectors that attracts domestic tourists.
TND: The country has already embraced federalism. Do you think NTB needs to be restructured accordingly?
Joshi: Our main focus at present is on recovery as tourism was very much affected in 2015. Restructuring is not in our priority now.
TND: Our marketing and promotional approach has always been traditional in international fairs. Aren’t you planning to bring new innovative ideas for addressing it?
Joshi: It’s because of our financial limitations. If we talk about the recent ITB, Maldives was a partner country and it spent Rs 220 million while our marketing budget is only Rs 180 million. This limitation is not seen from outside. But when we compare with other destinations it is very little.
TND: Many say NTB isn’t media-friendly. What do you say?
Joshi: We are friendly within our limited resource. There is a pool of domestic media and it is impossible for us to reach them all. We have quite a good relation with international media. We have been making around 100 plus media groups visit Nepal each year. They have given good coverage too.
TND: Recently Prince Harry was in Nepal. How does such visit help in tourism promotion?
Joshi: It makes good impact on tourism promotion. We carried the news of Prince Harry for the UK market. We did the same when Beckham was in Nepal sometime back. We even supported the event. We kept their encouraging messages in our brochures. This definitely helps.
TND: What are your major priorities?
Joshi: Our main priority will be on promoting Nepal as a best destination in the region. Similarly, putting innovative ideas in products, launching creative marketing initiatives as well as increasing our market reach and identifying the new segment is also in our priority. Our more focus will be on India and China.
TND: Any parting remarks?
Joshi: Tourism is said to be a backbone of Nepali economy. But it is not getting support and coordination from other sectors. Tourism is very much linked with other sectors, for example, infrastructure, aviation and hospitality industry among others. If these sectors are good, tourism will also be good. Therefore enhancing these sectors is very important for tourism development.