Nepal on course to achieve the target of one million visitors
By Rajiv Joshi
Is Nepal on the path of achieving the magical and much-anticipated figure of one million tourists in 2017? Are we really getting to the mark? Question like these are often heard these days and the entire tourism industry of Nepal are excited about the end results.
Looking at the latest statistics of the Department of Immigration, until the end of October this year, Nepal has already achieved three-quarters of the million mark, which is the total arrival for the whole year of 2016. So, the statistics of the following months are going to be the decisive one.
The ongoing peak tourist season of Nepal and the year of 2017 has come to an end. According to the latest statistics, the month of October received the highest number of visitors — 1,12,492. In this scenario, we are likely to achieve the magical figures.
The government of Nepal had declared 2011 as Nepal Tourism Year, setting a target of bringing in more than 1 million tourists. Even though, Nepal witnessed a good number of tourist during the year counting to around 7,36,215 which was more than 21 % growth than the previous year.
The following year the arrivals again saw a growth of around nine percent and despite a slight downfall in the following years the statistics was quite impressive. The recession in the early years, turmoil in international as well as national politics, growing security concerns globally was badly hitting not only Nepal but the world tourism. Less number of people were traveling around, and Nepali tourism was the one which was a prime victim during those days. Gradually things were coming back to normal and the number of global travelers was also growing by the day. And despite a boom in global tourism scenario and in the time when people were traveling more than ever, the tourism of Nepal was badly hit by one of the biggest natural disasters in its history in the form of an earthquake. It was at such time when the entire industry was serving the peak tourist season and also preparing for the upcoming Everest climbing season and the arrivals were also growing. But as soon as the earthquake struck, the year 2015 observed a huge decline while receiving only slightly more than half a million tourist. Infrastructures were damaged and many places remained in ruins. Heritage sites, trekking trails, rural villages, hotels and roads, among other sustained damages. It directly affected the tourism industry.
Apart from the earthquakes, Nepal was also battered by the economic blockade of India. During that time, shortages of essentials and even fuel escalated the trouble being faced by the tourism industry. Movement were disrupted and even basic commodities were falling short. The entire tourism industry suffered the brunt of the blockade.
Various activities were carried out to bring tourism back to normal. Even though it was a tragedy, the world knew Nepal after the earthquake, it created a sort of awareness and more and more people were seemingly concerned about Nepal and how it is going through following the disaster. As they say negative publicity can also bring some positive results, over exaggeration and the growing global concern from people of every walks of life towards Nepal, helped the country. People started to know about Nepal.
Campaigns like ‘I am in Nepal Now’ and ‘Nepal Back to the Top’, and various sales missions and global promotion programs were organized in the international market. It helped a lot to revive the industry. Not only in the international fronts, the government also promoted domestic tourism by celebrating the year 2073 BS as ‘Ghumphir Barsha’ which means the year of traveling. The yearlong campaign was taken as a success. Even though we couldn’t see substantial results, the campaign was successful in giving momentum to the tourism industry and encouraging people to travel.
The campaign brought some positive results though. The campaign also was helpful on better understanding the traveling pattern of Nepalese people. Many destinations like Pokhara, Chitwan, Mustang, Manang, Rara, Khaptad and Annapurna Region, to name a few, hosted a large number of domestic tourists. In the later years, we could even observe the increase in movement of domestic tourists to different tourist destinations. The domestic tourists also proved to be high spenders.
The year 2017 saw some big events as well. Nepal successfully hosted Himalayan Travel Mart which resulted in gaining bigger momentum. The event was also successful in disseminating the message to all over the world that Nepal is Nepal being safe to travel. The blogger’s conference held on the sidelines of the mart yielded even bigger results. It saw participation of hundreds of national and international bloggers, media and travel and tour operators.
Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has also been celebrating 2017 as Visit Nepal – Europe 2017, focusing on European tourists, with the target of bringing in at least 200,000 visitors from Europe during the year. Various tourism promotional programs have been conducted in various European countries in cooperation with the Non-Resident Nepali (NRN) associations, Nepali embassies and other Nepali associations there.
Apart from all these programs, Nepal has also been participating in various travel show, marts and conferences around the world. Various sales mission have been organized time and again. Various promotional programs and efforts from the entire tourism industry made it possible to look forward to the magical figure of one million.
The year of 2017 has got an impressive number of footfalls. The year also showed the changing interest in unknown and unexplored places of Nepal. The flow of tourists was higher in destinations like Mardi Himal, Manaslu region and eastern and western Himalayan regions. The usual hotspots like Annapurna trail even witnessed tourists sleeping on the floors due to lack of rooms and a large number of tourist in the area.
With the steady growth in tourist numbers, some tourism entrepreneurs have started saying that efforts should now be made to focus on quality rather than quantity. With quality comes better infrastructure and Nepal is in dire need of infrastructure development. Nepal desperately needs a new alternative international airport as Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) has already reached its saturation point. Government officials, too, have realized this. The government has already planned three international airport projects — upgradation of Gautam Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa into a regional international airport, construction of a regional international airport in Pokhara, and construction of a full-fledged international airport in Nijgadh of Bara. But work on these projects is moving at a snail’s pace. Weak international connectivity and lack of proper airports have always been the major concerns for Nepali tourism. The only international airport of Nepal, TIA, is not capable of handling the growing demand for air connectivity as well as bigger aircrafts.
The industry has also long been urging the government to focus on areas like proper road connectivity, better hospitality and services, and proper accommodations and infrastructure, among others. As strong national flag carrier is necessary for the development of the tourism of any country, strengthening the national flag carrier should also be taken into consideration.
Last but not the least, Nepal’s promotion and marketing approach needs to be redefined and should also be made more innovative as our traditional approach is not yielding better results.
Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO of Nepal Tourism Board, is excited with the significant growth in tourist numbers this year. “After the 2015 earthquakes, Nepal went through the worst time in its recent history. Be it natural disaster or man-made, the industry was affected by untoward incidents one after the other,” he said, adding: “Nepal, however, showed great resilience. With the support and encouragement that we got from the international arena, we became successful in taking the industry back to normalcy.”
Stating that NTB had planned the year 2016 as a year of survival, Joshi said the industry made the performance as expected. “We even achieved some level of targets during the year and coming down the line, we are very hopeful that we will reach our target of bringing one million tourists this year,” he added. “Now we should be more focused on quality and target more high value and quality tourists.”
Acknowledging that there is a need to change the traditional approach in international marketing and promotion, Joshi said NTB is now focusing more on marketing and brand promotion in the digital world. “We are focusing more on marketing through digital platforms and social media outlets. We have been using social platforms for the promotion of our destinations and we are already seeing good results,” said Joshi. “We are trying our best to promote Nepal globally by organizing various promotional programs, sales missions and participating in travel fairs and marts, for the better exposure of Nepal. But only these programs are not enough for the development of tourism. The government should prioritize infrastructure development and should also look forward to enhancing connectivity inside and outside Nepal.”
He further said that NTB has charted out plans to promote Nepal as a value destination. “We will promote Nepal as a ‘Unique Experiential Lifetime Value Destination’,” added Joshi.
Bishnu Pandey, CEO of Hotel Bliss International, expressed satisfaction over increased tourist footfalls. “The flow of visitors was constant throughout the year. We suffered a lot after the 2015 earthquakes and the blockade, but we rebounded strongly,” he said, expressing hope that the entry of internationally renowned hotel chain in Nepal will help to bring more tourists in the coming years. “These hotels will promote Nepal through their network. The entire industry will benefit,” he added. Pandey, however, urged the NTB and other concerned agencies to streamline their international marketing and promotion strategies for bringing more tourists to the country.
Rishi Ram Bhandari, managing director of Satori Adventure, says, though the number of visitors has increased,efforts should be made to bring high-quality tourists. “If we look at the arrival figures, we see substantial growth in tourist numbers. But the numbers will mean nothing if our tourism earning does not increase accordingly,” he said, urging the NTB and the government to take note of tourist spending over the past few years. He also said that the government should make huge investments to build roads and airports, strengthen national flag carrier Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) so that it can fly to major tourist generating markets. “NTB should revisit its international marketing and promotion activities by learning from the experience of other countries. Likewise, it should encourage the private sector to operate groups in new areas to promote them and also to reduce pressure on popular destinations like the Everest and the Annapurna regions,” Bhandari added.
There is no doubt that we need to put more efforts on promotion and marketing. We also need to work on enhancing our transportation, communication and infrastructure facilities to ensure a comfortable, safe and memorable visit to Nepal.