On new year’s day, President Bidya Devi Bhandari inaugurated Visit Nepal Year 2020, aimed at attracting 2 million tourists this year, at a lavish show in Kathmandu’s main stadium with fireworks and a flypast of military helicopters.

There was only one thing wrong with the event: it was in Kathmandu and not in the countries from which it is trying to attract visitors. The money would have been better spent on targeted promotion in selected countries.

Read also: Long road back to Shangrila, Mukesh Pokhrel

It might have been an even better idea to spend the money sprucing up Kathmandu airport, fixing the roads, and cleaning up a once-beautiful Valley that has become an ulcer — before bothering to convince visitors to come.

All seven provinces inaugurated the campaign with much fanfare. The parades were performed by Nepalis and the spectators were Nepalis. How does that help bring more tourists to Nepal?

Well-intentioned it may be, but the entire Visit Nepal campaign has been mediocre and sloppy every step of the way — planned and executed by people without imagination or knowledge about the tourism industry.

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The travel industry is generally unenthusiastic, and it is understandable why:

  • There has been insufficient preparation in the countries we should have prioritised for promotion
  • Publicity and marketing should have started at least two years ago, not on January 1.
  • The Ministry of Tourism has shown utter fecklessness by asking ambassadors to send senior ministers for the 1 January event in Kathmandu. (Why would anyone spoil a new year’s holiday and travel all the way at such short notice?)
  • Minister of Tourism Yogesh Bhattarai travelled to Australia to launch the campaign in the middle of a national fire emergency.
  • Bhattarai then announced that Nepali workers travelling abroad would mandatorily have to wear Visit Nepal caps and t-shirts. Everyone ignored this edict.
  • Nepal Tourism Board lost its chief at the start of VNY 2020.
  • There should be a revenue target, not a target of 2 million visitors.
  • The only aerial gateway to Nepal is a disgrace. It seems purpose-built for maximum inconvenience, with an incomprehensible visa-on-arrival process and an excruciating queue at the ‘metal free’ x-ray.
  • Nepal sells itself for cheap, but it is an expensive destination to get to mainly because of the high cost of aviation fuel which airlines are compelled to pass on to passengers.

The miracle is that despite everything we do to dissuade them, visitors still come to Nepal. The country has such high brand equity that even though we have done everything to wreck it with all the squalour and decrepitude in Kathmandu and our Byzantine bureaucracy, tourists still come.

We have even destroyed the countryside with haphazard road-construction along popular trekking routes —  treacherous passages that even the bravest fear to tread.

Read also: Pokhara: Nepal's new aviation gateway, Kunda Dixit

Instead of promoting Nepal within Nepal, the government should mark Visit Nepal 2020 by cleaning up Nepal in 2020. The trekking trails need to be preserved and cleared of plastic garbage, it has to be convenient and safe to get to the hinterland, and visitors should be encouraged to spend their money where it is needed the most — in the villages through which they hike.

There is the idea that only Kathmandu, Pokhara, Lumbini and Chitwan are Nepal’s tourist attractions. There is  fundamental ignorance among policymakers about what a tourist is looking for in Nepal — they do not come here to be extorted every step of the way with two-tier pricing for tickets for museums to domestic airlines.

In the past, the Maoist insurgency, a decade of political instability with frequent shutdowns (hotel vans still carry ‘Tourist Only’ on windshields as a relic from that era), the earthquake and the Blockade could have been blamed for low visitor numbers. We have no more excuses. Nepal now is a vibrant democracy with a strong government.

Publicity within the country for Visit Nepal 2020 must be channeled to making people aware about cleanliness, maintaining infrastructure, reducing bureaucratic red tape, and streamlining procedures to make visitors’ stay as convenient as possible by treating them really as gods, not as wallets.

Only then will tourism once again be a strong pillar of the economy. The industry that once contributed 22% to the national GDP now contributes only 4%. Tourism income can help Nepal redress it growing trade gap.

Nepal’s location is ideal for tourism. We need to expand the country’s national airline, spread its network and rebuild the Nepal brand.

10 years ago this week

The Nepali Times edition of #484 from 8-14 January 2010 ten years ago was full of revelation of a fallout between Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai. Even the Ass made fun of it. But this paragraph from Prashant Jha’s column, Plain Speaking said it all:

Nepal may still have been stuck in a bloody conflict but for Dr Baburam Bhattarai and his emphasis on democratic republicanism. The ongoing attempts to marginalise him within the Maoists reveal much about the balance of power and how counterproductive it could be for the peace and constitution-writing process.

By snubbing Bhattarai and his ‘line’ again - as Prachanda did by depriving him of the deputy prime ministership in August 2008 and incorporating Kiran’s views at Kharipati two months later - the Maoists run the risk of undermining their achievements, repeating the mistakes of their 20th century communist counterparts, and failing.


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