Nepal’s Tourism on the path of recovery

Tourist arrivals seen growing in 2016

By Anuska Joshi

Nepal, which was hit by series of earthquakes in 2015, was voted as one of the preferred destinations to travel in 2016 by different travel sites and guidebooks. It came as no surprise as Nepal is full of wonders. Nepal is a place where you can find the tropical, subtropical and alpine backgrounds just within a couple hours drive. Statistics shows tourist arrivals to Nepal jumped 12.77 percent in the first half of 2016, showing incipient signs that the tourism industry is stirring back to normalcy after suffering a series of disasters last year.

The tourism statistics showed a plunge in the tourist arrival from 2014 to 2015. Now, the numbers show a significant increase, thanks to the remarkable efforts by the tourism sector in Nepal and abroad to showcase Nepal to the world as a country still full of wonders and worth a visit. The arrival of so many tourists was also a boon for all the recovery initiatives. While number of sites still needs reconstruction and renewal, we can see from the numbers that the natural beauty is still a blessing for us.

Nepal welcomed 87,326 tourists in October. In the same month last year, tourist footfalls numbered only 56,584, and in 2014, it was 80,993. Not only did the number for this month rise above last year, but also surpassed the data of 2014. Even the lowest number of arrivals for this year was 40,260 in the month of January. The total foreigner tourists’ arrival for 2016 is likely to cross 700,000. The year also saw a lot of domestic tourism movement. Conservative estimates put the figure at around one million.

India continues to be the largest tourism source country for Nepal. According to the statistics, 105,047 Indians have visited Nepal till the month of November. This can also be attributed to the “Garmi Se Behal, Chalo Nepal (If you want to escape the heat, take a trip to Nepal)” campaign by the Nepal Tourism Board. While launching the campaign, Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO of NTB, had shared that these kinds of campaign would be launched in major tourist generating source markets more aggressively and that NTB was focused on social media promotions.

The slogan was used in various travel marts in India too. In addition to the various marketing and promotional campaigns, Indians also visit Nepal for pilgrimage to different holy sites and temples.

Similarly, Nepal has welcomed 71,340 Chinese tourists till November. Following the 2015 earthquakes, the Nepali Embassy in Beijing, Adventure Outdoor Trek and Expedition and CITS Chengdu had organized a Nepali tourism promotion program in Beijing to spread the message in the Chinese market that Nepal is safe to visit. China is the second largest source markets for Nepal after India.

Nepali tourism fraternity organized number of other promotional campaigns in China to bring in more Chinese tourists. The Nepalese travel agencies hosted a 10-day promotional campaign on April 10-19, covering four Chinese cities – Beijing, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Shanghai.

Sri Lanka (56,109) comes third in the list in terms of number of tourists, followed by the US (48,481).

Tourism is the second biggest revenue earner in Nepal and directly contributes 3 to 4 percent to the country’s GDP. Therefore, the drop in tourist footfalls can inflict huge loss on many agencies as well as locals in different tourism areas. In May and June following the disaster, there had been a drop of 40-90 percent tourist bookings, with Nepal’s premier tourism spot, Pokhara, witnessing 90 percent drop.  Responding to the drop, many campaigns and promotions had been brought forward for this year that aimed in revival of the tourism sector in Nepal.

The re-launch of ‘Garmi Se Behal, Chalo Nepal’,  targeted at the Indian inflow of tourists, was one among them. Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN) and Nepal Embassy also put in joint efforts to create awareness that Nepal as a whole is a safe tourist destination. The Nepal Tourism Board has also used various categories and activities to attract tourists like the Pokhara Street Festival, Chitwan Elephant Festival, 8th Nature and Wildlife Photography Competition, Nepal Literature Festival, International Tattoo Convention, and Yoga in the Mountains, among others.

Tourist footfall in Nepal is likely to grow by 32 percent this year. This can be accredited to the assortment of efforts put in by the Nepal Tourism Board, various associations, travel and tour operators, and media for the promotion of Nepal in the tourism market.

The year showed an increased interest in the unknown, unexplored places of Nepal, increased collaboration among various stakeholders and coming together to promote vigorously, which, if kept up, will definitely change the tourism scenario for the better. Having said this, there is no doubt a need to put more efforts on our reconstruction programs as many heritages and sites still lie in the rubbles. We still need to work on our transportation, communication and infrastructural sector to make the experience of travel in Nepal more secure, comfortable, and memorable.

Tourism News Digest (TND) talked to who’s who of the Nepali tourism industry to know their views on the impressive performance of Nepali tourism industry this year:

There is a need to improve aviation infrastructures

This year is much better than the previous year. But our tourism industry has not fully recovered and there are lot more things to be done to get it back on track. We are not totally satisfied with the outcomes. But we can hope that we will have a good future. There are lots of things to be taken into considerations like development of infrastructure and proper promotions.

We should also focus on areas like proper road connectivity inside the country, better hospitality and service, and proper accommodations and infrastructure, among others. The major problem is with our airport. We are in dire need of more regional and international airports. As strong national flag carrier is a most for the development of the tourism of any country, we should be more serious about strengthening the national flag carrier.

Nepali tourism has been hit by a series of hindrances. Unstable government, strikes, natural disasters and blockades are some of the major setbacks for Nepali tourism industry. Apart from these, weak international connectivity and lack of proper airports are also some of the major concerns for Nepal’s tourism. Our only international airport is not capable of handling the growing demand of air connectivity. It can support take off and landing of only small aircraft. We cannot expect the numbers of tourists to grow until and unless we can handle bigger aircraft and handle more passengers.

Looking at the present scenario, we should put focus on getting more tourists rather than looking for some high-end tourist as our infrastructure and facilities cannot cater to them as per the expectations. Mass tourism should be our major focus and we should also be able to act according to the trends and demands of the international arena. Our promotion and marketing approach should be redefined and should also be more innovative as we can see that our traditional ways of promotion and marketing tactics are not becoming effective.

Ang Tshering Sherpa, President, Nepal Mountaineering Association

Promotion and marketing strategy should be revisited

Chhewang N. Lama, Managing Director, Responsible Trek
This season is way better than last year when the impact of earthquakes and border blockade affected tourist arrivals. This year visitors seemed to be interested more on trekking and adventure activities. We can find people more positive towards Nepal. It is high time we focused on infrastructure development. We need proper airports, roads and new tourism products, among others. I think that tourism of Nepal is also suffering because of various bureaucratic hurdles which need to be addressed in time.

Our national tourism organization should also be more effective in terms of their strategies, promotional and marketing techniques. Digital marketing, mass promotion and interactive and informative websites can be a tool to help Nepal to get more visitors.

Chhewang Lama, MD, Responsible Treks

We need a strong national flag carrier

Prabin Panday, Executive Director, Shangri-La Hotel, Kathmandu
Compared to last year, we can say that this year is good in terms of visitor arrivals. After last year’s earthquakes and border blockade, international tour and travel operators had removed Nepal from their itineraries. Now, we are very hopeful that they will certainly add Nepal to their list. Though the turnout was good, it is not much satisfactory as we should have done more to revamp our image the international market. The government should have taken proper initiatives in time.

We can observe Nepalis living abroad also playing their role in disseminating some positive message around the world which is very positive. Lack of proper infrastructures like airport and highway, among others, has been the major hindrance to Nepali tourism industry. The government should immediately expedite plans to expand the capacity of Tribhuvan International Airport so that handle bigger and more aircraft. Similarly, we should put focus on promotion and marketing of our tourism products in the international market.

The target of welcoming one million tourists, which was set back in 2011, can be easily achieved if we address the problems of proper air connectivity with major international markets, expansion of existing airport, building new ones, uplifting our existing highways, proper infrastructure development and removing Nepal form European blacklist. Last but not the least, strong national flag carrier with wider reach to major destinations can be a pivoting point for bringing in higher number of visitors.

Prabin Panday, Executive Member, Hotel Association Nepal

NTB should focus on digital marketing

Rajan Simkhada, Managing Director, Earthbound Expedition
I can say that overall statistics shows some positive results. But the turnout is not as anticipated. It seems like lots of thing are still to be done. First thing is building infrastructures like airports and roads and the most important one is the proper promotion and advertisement campaigns in our major source markets — India and China. Though we have seen overall growth in the number of visitors, we observed a decline in the number of visitors from China and India which should be taken into considerations. Initiatives taken by the private sector along are not enough.

Our national tourism organization and the concerned stakeholders should put in more efforts for tourism promotion. Traditional marketing techniques and promotional campaigns need to get transformed and we should look more on modern forms of marketing and promotion techniques i.e. going digital. At present, we can see global tourism, opting digital promotions and modern approach on the ways of attracting tourists. Promotion and marketing alone is not enough, the government should infrastructure development, and marketing and promotion in priority.

In today’s world, people are more tech savvy. So, we should adopt modern technologies to tap that segment. We should be able to reach to more people. Our products should also be more competitive. Earlier in 2011, we had set a target of bringing one million tourists. Now, the government has set a target of welcoming two million tourists by 2020. But it will be hard to meet the targets given the poor infrastructures, and traditional form of destination and product marketing. We should be more serious on implementing effective promotional strategies.

Rajan Simkhada, Managing director, Earthbound Expedition

We can get more than a million visitors by 2018

Rajendra Prasad Sapkota, Board Member, Nepal Tourism Board
We have got a quite encouraging result this time around. Numbers of visitors has increased compared to last year when we were hit by series of mishaps like earthquake and blockade. This year we could also see domestic tourism flourish. Destinations like Rara and Mustang received a huge numbers of domestic tourists. I think it is because of the Ghumphir campaign which NTB launched. It has helped a lot in revival of our tourism industry. The success of the campaign shows that the future of domestic tourism is bright.

There is a dire need of conducting promotional campaigns through international media. We have not been able to launch promotional campaigns in foreign media platforms like BBC, CNN and TripAdvisor, among others, because of the government policies. NTB has formed a committee to address the issue. I am hopeful that it will be resolved soon.

NTB has also focused its promotional campaigns in our neighboring markets — China and India. It recently launched a campaign “Chalo Nepal” and road shows in various destinations in India which has also been helpful in the promotion of Nepal. We are very hopeful that NTB will be continuing such campaigns in other destinations too. NTB is also focusing in digital marketing and we hope that it will produce better results in the days to come.

We had set a target of bringing one million tourists back in 2011. But we could not meet the target. But as the statistics are showing some positive results, we are very hopeful of achieving the target by 2017. We hope to welcome 1.2 million tourists in 2018 which is being celebrated as Visit Nepal Year. The government is also moving ahead with Vision 2020 and it has targeted to bring 2 million tourists by 2020.

The major problem we have been facing is connectivity. But it is very encouraging to note that Nepal Airlines Corporation has been doing its bit to bring more international tourists to Nepal from the sectors it flies. It plans to acquire more aircraft in the near future which is a very positive sign.

We have a problem with infrastructures like airports and roads. Until and unless we have proper international airport with the capacity of handling bigger aircrafts and larger number of passengers, we won’t be able to attain our goals. Lately, we have been observing huge investments in tourism sector. International hotel chains are coming to Nepal. So we can say that tourism has a very bright future.

Rajendra Prasad Sapkota, Board Member, Nepal Tourism Board

Rebuild the destroyed structures

Shekhar Thapa, General Secretary, Nepal Association of Rafting Agents
After a yearlong crisis in 2015, it was satisfactory in terms of tourist arrival this year. Though we observed the increment in number of arrivals, the result is not as anticipated as we had an average turnout. We are on the path of recovery and I hope that we will be getting more tourists in the coming days.

The government has to be serious with the issues being faced by our tourism industry. Rebuilding the destroyed infrastructures, upgrading the airport and adding other infrastructures should be the major concern of the government and the stakeholders. There are lots of challenges we have been facing while operating trips in Nepal. We are not being able to cater the tourists as per the norms and I think that government should also be sensible towards solving the problems faced by the industry.

We have also been lacking proper connectivity as the national flag carrier is not strong enough, but we can see that the NAC is doing great and after adding few more aircrafts, it will be a great sigh of relief for the visitors coming to Nepal, which will result to the benefit of tourism industry. Government and its concerned agencies should also focus on effective and innovative ways to go for international promotion and marketing.

Shekhar Bahadur Thapa, General Secretary,Nepal Association of Rafting Agencies

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