Nabaraj Dahal is the new president of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN). Dahal, who is the managing director of Nepal Environmental Treks, served as the general secretary of the association in 2008-10. He is also the Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Estonia in Nepal. Rajiv Joshi of Tourism News Digest talked to Dahal to know about his plans to lead the association for two years. Excerpts:
TND: You previously served as general secretary of TAAN and now have been elected as the president. How does it feel?
Dahal: I worked as a general secretary of the association during 2008-2010. Now, I am in TAAN after a gap of seven years. I have felt more responsibility on my shoulder. Comparing these two periods, I feel that the scenario of our tourism industry, especially the trekking sector, has changed completely. There were very few companies earlier last time and competition was also less. We used to get less but quality tourists. Tourism was a lot better than it is today. TAAN was also running smoothly and the association was working for the rights and benefits of trekking entrepreneurs as well as workers. But these days we feel that TAAN is entangled in political issues and brewing controversies.
I have been elected as the president at a very crucial time. In the past few years, we saw TAAN going through bad days. Now, it is my duty to uplift the association by bringing necessary changes in the way it functions. There are lots of challenges and problems ahead of me. But there are lot of opportunities as well. So, during my tenure as a president of the organization, i will fully devote myself for building a better future for the association and work for the betterment of the entire trekking and tourism sector. I am also hopeful that under my leadership, we will certainly try to revamp the image of TAAN.
TND: What do you think are the challenges in trekking and adventure sector at present?
Dahal: There are lots of challenges that we need to tackle. We are looking forward to bringing in one million tourists to Nepal during this year. As far as I know, we are close to achieving that target. After achieving this magical number, our effort should be on bringing quality tourists. We can see the number of trekking businesses growing day by the day. As the number of businesses rise, we have started seeing unhealthy competition flourishing in the market. We need to tackle this issue as well. These days even NGOs, INGOs, foreign tour leaders, local guides and even some hotels are seen operating trekking businesses which has added to the woes of the legally registered trekking agencies. Time and again we come across cases of tourists, who travel independently, getting lost. It has emerged as a great challenge as it raises a serious question on safety and security of trekkers. We should work effectively to address some of these issues and the new leadership is also committed to work in this direction.
Similarly, we are also concerned about problems that we have been facing problems in handling groups in restricted areas like Upper Mustang, Manaslu, Dolpa and Kanchenjunga, among others. We will urge the government to simplify entry of people to these areas as they are of high value for trekking businesses. Our industry has a common voice — we should discourage solo trekking and encourage to take at least a guide or porter with them. This arrangement is needed to avoid cases of trekkers being lost.
TND: How do you plan to tackle the challenges?
Dahal: As i said before, TAAN is the umbrella organization of the trekking industry of the country. Only we can play a role in minimizing the risks and challenges in the sector. Issues like illegal operations, simplifying the permit systems to the restricted areas and other ill practices should be taken care of and TAAN will be working towards settling these issues at the earliest. For that to happen, TAAN, the government and other stakeholders should work in close coordination.
Restoring damaged trails in the major trekking areas, identifying new trails and promoting them will also get our priority. We have been observing a decline in length of stay of trekkers as trekking trails are shortening due to expansion of road network. So, our focus should be on identifying new areas, developing necessary infrastructures there and promoting them in the international market. As our resources along won’t be sufficient for these works, we will have to work closely with other stakeholders too.
We are also committed toward uniting the entire trekking fraternity. In the past, we saw differences among members agencies cost dear for TAAN and the trekking industry. So, it is very important that the entire sector work in close coordination with the tourism industry. We are also thinking about organizing an international level travel conference and mart so that it will be easier for entrepreneurs to promote their business without having to travel to international destinations. In that way, trekking industry can also get benefits and on the other hand, because of various constraints like budget and proper approach, every business enterprise cannot go on international promotion. This will especially help small-scale enterprises which cannot afford to travel to foreign destinations for international marketing and promotion.
We are planning hard to get things done during our tenure. And we are very much hopeful of getting positive results within the first six months of our tenure.
TND: No trekking without guide and porter is one of the important agendas raised by your team. How will you convince the government to introduce the rule?
Dahal: This agenda is not only ours. It has been raised by the entire industry. We have been observing few cases of trekkers getting lost or even dying in trekking areas. The implementation of no trekking without guide rule will stop such incidents. I am hopeful that the government is also aware of this fact and should be looked after by the government. It will not only address our safety and security issues but it will also ensure that no untoward incidents takes place in the future. The implementation of this rule will also help in generating employment. We are going through discussions on that issue and we are hopeful of getting positive results soon. We will leave no stone unturned to convince the policymakers.
TND: Cut throat competition and rate curtailing among agents is killing the industry. What are your plans to address this issue?
Dahal: As an umbrella organization of trekking agents, we can only request our members to make the sector more dignified by maintaining prices, focusing on quality and providing better services. It can also help in making the business more sustainable as well as. We can see some unhealthy practices and competitions not only in trekking sector but also in other sectors of the tourism industry. But it is the also the business organizations who should work more sensibly and deliver proper service.
The main objective of TAAN is the promotion and development of trekking sector as well as ensuring the rights of its member agencies. So, TAAN is always determined on its objectives and we urge our members to practice healthy competition and make trekking business more dignified in the coming days. I believe that all will comply with our request.
TND: TIMS fund is lying idle with the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) for the past many years. What are your plans to release TAAN’s share of the fund. Why do you think the previous executive committee failed in getting the fund released?
Dahal: We will first assure NTB that the new executive committee is totally committed to utilize the funds in appropriate way by maintaining financial transparency. TAAN has been alleged of misusing the funds in the past. We are very serious on the issue. OUr executive committee has already started a study to ascertain whether there was any shortcoming in implementation of TIMS from TAAN side.
Previously, we saw some misunderstanding among the executive committee member because of which the problems couldn’t be solved. The new executive committee strongly believes that the trekking industry needs TIMS and that the fund should be utilized in a proper way as per its guidelines. I would like to assure the government, NTB and the industry that we will utilize the funds by adhering to the guidelines strictly.
We will hold discussions with NTB and try to find proper solution. It is a fact that NTB was not always assured on the funds being utilized properly. So, we will do our best to assure NTB and the government on the proper utilization of the funds. We are hopeful that our efforts will give some positive results soon.
TND: Imposition of tax my local authorities has become a serious problems. How do you intend to tackle it?
Dahal: After the local elections, various local bodies imposed some rules on their own. I think the local bodies took the decision in haste. They collected tax which are much higher than the existing fees. Some local bodies also instructed tourists not to pay TIMS fund being collected by TAAN and peak permits being issued by NMA. They imposed their own rules without even holding needful discussions with concerned stakeholders and the government agencies. This is a serious issue. It can even hamper the image of country and can even cause greater impact to the tourism industry in the coming days, if not resolved accordingly.
At present the federal affairs ministry has directed to put the decision of the local bodies on hold and we are very hopeful that we will get the solutions soon. We will hold necessary discussions will all the concerned bodies including, the concerned local body, tourism ministry, and federal affairs ministry to find some concrete solution to the issue.
TND: Many say TAAN is deviating from its core principles of exploring and promoting new trekking destinations. What are your plans?
Dahal: It’s not that nothing has been done in the past. Our previous executive committees have done some good things in the past and we should appreciate that. But it’s a fact that more should have been done.
At present we are observing the decline in trekking duration because of the growing road networks. And it is very much necessary to work towards finding alternate routes to the destination that have been impacted by roads.
After assuming the office exploration of new destinations, development of existing trails and promotion of our destination has become our prime agenda. We are working forward following the principles of TAAN.
TND: Any parting remarks?
Dahal: As the president of TAAN, I urge all the stakeholders of trekking sectors to come together for the development of trekking in nepal. We need support of the industry as well as other stakeholders as tourism is a multi-dimensional industry. I would like to convey my gratitude to those who have elected us for the two-year term. I would like to assure that we have got a very good team and that we will tackle all problems and challenges in the trekking sector one by one by holding discussions and consultations with government agencies and other stakeholders.