In the aftermath of Covid-19 adverse impact upon the tourism sector and amid speculations as to how to revive the tourism sector group of five -Nepal Institute of Development Studies, Climate Alliance for Himalayan Communities, Himalayan Climate Initiative, Public Youth Campus – TU, and Highlights Tourism jointly organized a virtual dialogue on the theme, “Our Strategy to Revive Tourism after Covid-19” recently.
Senior tourism entrepreneur and founding member of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), Basanta Mishra had graced the virtual session as its chairman while creative editor Anita Gurung moderated the session.
Dr. Dhananjaya Regmi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NTB was the key speaker while former CEO of NTB and Director General of tourism department Prachand Man Shrestha along with Dipendra Purush Dhakal (former governor of Rastra Bank and former tourism secretary were present on the occasion to express their concepts about how to revive the tourism after Covid-19.
The following is the narrative rhetoric expressed by each speaker in the virtual session.
Dr. Dhananjay Regmi, CEO-Nepal Tourism Board
The major question facing the tourism sector now is how to attract tourists? Am I safe to travel? These are some of the basic questions in mind while going for tourism activities.
Are we prepared to provide services after Covid -19? And are we clear about government policies related to tourism and covid-19 safety?
The arrival of tourists is very negligible up to December 2020. More than three hundred thousand people have been adversely affected in the tourism sector by Covi-19 directly and above ten hundred thousand people impacted indirectly.
The nation has incurred a loss of more than Rs. 70 billion on a monthly basis in foreign exchange. More than Rs. 150 billion investment has been done in tourism while 8285 tourism establishments are at risk.
There are 1151 tourist standard hotels and there are a total of 138-star hotels. There are 3680 travel agencies, 4200 tour guides, 2764 trekking agencies, and 17325 trekking guides.
There are 29 International airline operators, followed by 20 domestic airline operators with a total of 8,285 establishments and 81878 total licensed manpower.
Our major challenges are;
- How long will the crisis remain?
- How to revive tourism safely?
- How to communicate with the global community?
- 99% reduction in tourist arrival
Restart, revive and rethink are the major steps to be taken. A collaborative approach is required and NTB can be a coordinating agency. We are following UNWTO in this regard. A domestic tourism revival task force (DTRTF) has been formulated in each province. Promotion of the Deshdarshan Program has been stressed for the promotion of domestic tourism. Most of the tourism sector areas have opened by now.
Gradually all countries are opening for tourism, for example, the Maldives is focusing on tourism as its main basis of revenue. India has an air bubble with many countries. Dubai also has adopted safety measures that are tourist-friendly.
However, the Nepal government’s policy about tourists is very vague pertaining to tourist insurance and safety measures including isolation and PCR test.
It means we have created some confusion about safety measures while bringing policies related to tourism which may be wrong practice. We have also not been able to consult with the private sector to revive tourism. We are still scared about Covid-19.
The other challenges include;
Most of the stakeholders have their own perceptions of tourism. It brings variations in the operation of tourism activities. So, a single voice is required at the policy level and operating decision level.
We have not been able to promote mid-hill destinations, day hikes, and cultural travel to ethnic cultures with cultural diversity that can be more viable because Nepal has seasonal destinations.
Nepal is actually not for retired persons and not for children. We should work for the standard of the operation. This is the time that we need to work for domestic tourism. Domestic tourism can bring a revival of tourism to cope up with covid-19 for which Nepal has not been able to bring more incentives.
So Nepal can deal with covid-19 if domestic tourism is boosted up. This is the time for confidence built up for aggressive marketing and to make up the package in the Covid-19 situation. We must focus on mid-hill destinations, immediate, intermediate, and long time strategies for the revival of tourism must be stressed.
Prachand Man Shrestha (Former CEO –NTB and Director General of Tourism Department)
Covid has left a scar and fear not only for tourism but also for tourists. So, the first thing is how to remove this fear of Covid-19 to revive tourism.
Covid-19 has intensified the fear of uncertainty for return of investment in the business. This fear removed can give confidence to these elements. Our tourism protocol should also be clear on how we are going to allow vaccine inoculated in tourism.
It is important to posit Nepal to the international community about what is the position of Nepal at this point to rethink the impact of covid-19? Massive marketing dissemination is required and confusion should be removed to bring a single voice.
Nepal’s strength is the repeated arrival of tourists to Nepal. They can speak about Nepal. We need to track down their expressions. We have to promote our connectivity also. The next challenge is balancing demand and supply. Mid hill destination as a new tourism product would be crucial and fruit yielding product. We have to focus on the business segment to cover Nepali diaspora to let friends and families visit Nepal.
Next the logistic is very important for the tourists. Existing east to west airports can be announced to be international as small planes can get a new dimension of international destination for Indian planes can come to Nepal.
So tour packages should be managed by seeing the cost-effective end. Digitization is also another factor. Homestay entrepreneurs should be supported with digital facilities from the state to cope up with Covid-19 to revive tourism in Nepal.
Dipendra Purush Dhakal (former governor of Rastra Bank and former tourism secretary)
Actually, Prachand Man Shrestha and I are the founders of NTB and I think the whole history of NTB is here. I will not repeat the things of Prachand Man Shrestha.
Firstly, we have to focus on the image of the country. We know that we cannot become too ambitious at this moment in the harsh situation created by Covid-19. We cannot focus on international tourists. Covid-19 damages the image of the country.
Two days’ leave for civil servants can be good for promoting domestic tourism. Nepalese can also visit domestic tourist destinations such as Ghaleguan etc.
For example, Maldives has taken up a stand towards tourism despite Covid-19. Thailand and Maldives are top tourist destinations in the world. What benefit did we get from two royal princes who visited the mountains in Nepal a few months ago? Wildlife poaching has tarnished the image of Nepal.
Our four international airports should be immediately launched and enable Indian planes to land in Nepali airports. Now, the safety of tourists is the major thing which starts from Kathmandu airport. Tourists fear the bad rumors about Nepal.
I appreciate the rethink, restart, and revive concept presented by Dr. Dhanjay. Had there been no local governments, the covid-19 situation would have been the worst. With the help of the local government, we can boost the tourism revival with good direction and guidance from the central government.
If we can remove Nepal’s aviation from the blacklist of the European Union, we can see new aviation avenues. Cross border tourism is another factor to think of.
Star hotels like Annapurna hotel and Soaltee are going to close. How can the hotels in Thamel pay their house rents? So, a bad message is spread across the border.
On being asked if NTB can explore a new domain of tourism in eastern Nepal, Dr. Regmi said that digital marketing would be a means to resort to. Regmi also opined that though Nepal has not enlisted as one of the top 25 destinations in the world despite its superb natural and cultural avenues, yet we can reintroduce Nepal through camping trekking which could attract tourists. Our strategy would be to declare Nepal as a safe destination in camp trekking.
Basanta Mishra (senior tourism entrepreneur)
Tourism is a competitive world. So, we have to design our marketing strategy very carefully. Tourism can never survive in isolation. We have been talking about a PCR test machine at the airport. Very innovating concepts about reviving, rethinking the revival of tourism in Nepal have been explored and expressed here in this session. So, we can do anything if we collaborate together in our mission to revive tourism despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
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