It is high time the industry focused on quality. The government, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and the private sector should sit together to frame appropriate policies for discouraging price undercutting among tourism entrepreneurs and develop high value products.
The peak tourist season of Nepal and the year of 2017 has come to an end. Nepal has received a record arrival of tourist during the year. Although the much anticipated figure of one million visitors could not be achieved, the country missed the target by a small margin. According to the statistics of the Department of Immigration, Nepal observed the increase in number of tourist arrival by 24.86 percent compared to 2016 with the total number — 940,218.
Even though we have hit the highest mark in the history of Nepal’s tourism, there is nothing to cheer about as the country had targeted to achieve the target of one million tourist in 2011 itself when the tourism fraternity celebrated Nepal Tourism Year 2011 campaign. Earthquakes of 2017 and subsequent economic blockade by India, among other factors, affected the momentum that the year-long campaign of 2011 had given to the tourism industry. Albeit late, we have come close to achieving the target.
But the numbers alone won’t mean much for the tourism industry or the national economy. What matters most is tourist spending. According to statistics maintained by tourism ministry, per capita spending of foreign tourists was US$ 53 in 2016 compared to $73 in 2008. This figure suggests that earning from tourism is falling with each passing year. Per capita tourist spending is high in our neighboring countries. For example in Bhutan, foreign tourists must spend a minimum of $200 — nearly three times more than what tourists are spending in Nepal. Nepal has similar tourism attractions compared to Bhutan, if not better. Why is Nepal’s earning from tourism so low? Why can’t we earn as high as Bhutan? Who is making Nepal a cheap destination? Time has come to find answers to these question.
Nepal used to be premier destination for foreigners until the 1990s. At that time, the number of tourists used to be small but they used to make huge spending. The number of tour operators was also low at the time. But as the number of tour operators and tour enterprises increased, the cost of tour packages to Nepal started falling gradually. They competed in price and not in services and offering value addition. As a result, price of our tourism products and services started falling down even though our currency was depreciating at a fast pace vis-a-vis US dollar. A daylong rafting Package in Trishuli for example has come down to around $30 per person compared to around $150 in the past. Tariff of every tourism products and services here is cheaper compared to other destinations. It is because we focused on numbers, and not the earnings. Time has come to seriously revisit our way of doing business.
It is high time the industry focused on quality. The government, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and the private sector should sit together to frame appropriate policies for discouraging price undercutting among tourism entrepreneurs and develop high value products. We need to take tourism activities beyond the Annapurna, Everest and the Langtang regions. We have lot of tourism potentials in mid and far western regions. Time has come to exploit them to the fullest. It will bring tourism revenue to these regions which are deprived of tourism activities so far. New and value-added products will help us to bring more high-end tourists to the country It will not only make our products competitive compared to neighboring countries, but also increase tourists length of stay and spending.