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April 5, 2021

Sustainable Tourism in Nepal: Challenges and Opportunities

Lisa Choegyal a renowned tourism consultant who has worked throughout South Asia and the Asia Pacific. Her areas of work include natural and cultural heritage tourism focusing on sustainable livelihoods of communities. She first came to Nepal in 1974 and worked with Tiger Tops Jungle lodge in Chitwan until 1997. Thereafter, she has been engaged in sustainable tourism development in Nepal based on her experience. Since 2010 she is also honorary Consulate of New Zealand to Nepal. This is an excerpt prepared on basis of a virtual talk of Lisa Choegyal moderated by our creative editor Anita Gurung covering various aspects of challenges and opportunities for sustainable tourism in Nepal. 

Meaning of Sustainable Tourism

Lisa Choegyal
Honorary Consul of New Zealand for Nepal

What does sustainable tourism mean? This is an important question and needs to be understood properly. Having a long-standing experience and knowledge in the area of tourism and conservation, Lisa puts it as: “Sustainable Tourism is a concept of visiting somewhere as a tourist and consciously making a positive impact on the environment, society and economy”.

She also narrated that the core principle of Ecotourism is to protect nature and culture, benefit local people, provides interpretation and education. These are enshrined in the policies of the Government of Nepal (GoN) as tourism is deemed to be helping local people and development in the country. She adds, “The tourism industry has been certainly natural conservation and cultural heritages led. Our group always adopted the partnership approach which consisted of community, tourism manager, and tourism industry. It is these three elements that can be correlated to tourism sustainability.”

Sustainable tourism also entails awareness creation and appreciation of natural resources and heritage values, diversifies community jobs, livelihood and skills. It stimulates local products, crafts, and arts as well as improves visitors’ behavior and develops a self-financing mechanism. She notes. “Nepal has been utterly successful in developing tourism for self-financing, preserving culture, heritage, and nature. I think Nepal has achieved great strife in all these components.”

Mountain Travel and Mountaineering in Nepal 

Lisa revealed that Col. Jimmy Roberts was the one to start trekking in Nepal in 1964 which is now a huge business in Nepal. When he retired from the army service he was a famous mountaineer. His first group of trekkers (American ladies) went up in 1965. At first, it was started as a group activity. The tea houses later followed Jimmy’s style of trekking which are interestingly very long ones. Many tourists return to Nepal to do the trekking again.

She reckons that mountaineering has proved to be very significant in recent days. As much as 3.5 million has gone to Everest while 4.4million was for royalties.3136 climbers were expected in 2018. It has been a long hiatus since the Covid-19 pandemic infected Nepal.

To promote tourism in Nepal partnership was done with scientists, NGOs, government, travel industry, Bhutan, India. The key parts of Nepal’s success have been the diversified markets. Today social media has a lot of roles to play for sustainable tourism. She stresses, “For sustainable tourism, we have to be commercially viable and we cannot be niche. We also have to embrace the entire tourism industry.”

Changing Trends

Based on her long-standing experience Lisa has been able to observe changing trends. She shares, “The tourism industry was going up before the Covid-19 pandemic but it has drastically gone down after it. The tourist’s average spends per day was 44 dollars in the early days which went down to 23 dollars a day which was a major issue in the tourism industry.”

“Now it has been realized how many people have been affected if tourists stopped coming in. We have always been focusing on partnership for development and Nepal has been very clever in doing partnership by using development partners such as UKaid, ADB, UNDP, WBG, NTB, NGO contribution, WWF, Ecotourism project, Great Himalayan Trail, etc and private sector.”

“Tourism is not only accommodation but also where you spent the nights, what stories you are told and who accompany you. Dwarika hotel in this aspect has been successful to great extent. The naturalists and guides are very important and Nepal is good as Nepal’s hospitality is very much appreciated by the foreigners. That’s why many tourists come here again and again.”

She also suggests, “Local products, local foods are important adapting local style. Packaging products include river running, wildlife. Nepal has a couple of hundred elephants and if tourists don’t come here it is going to be a problem. So I contend that it is disappointing that the current world view and judgment is that it is cruel to be keeping elephants like that and not releasing elephants to the wilderness, that they are not abused if they are kept. It is a hot topic in global tourism.”

Protecting Resources

“Protecting local resources is important on which the tourism depends. International Trust for nature conservation has made it possible for protection or nature conservation. Dwarika has been successful as the best example in Asia in providing the local resource to the tourists.”

She suggests.”Use Covid-19 to reset and regenerate sustainability, less extractive and attuned to nature. Arrival in Nepal in 2020 went down by 81%. Lack of coordination between countries about regulation, quarantine, aviation policies is some of the elements of misinterpretations.”

She stresses, “We must use tourism advocacy to effect change and climate reform in the wake of upcoming COP 26. We can see the melting glaciers and climate crisis and the foundation of houses cracking.”

How can you help?

Lisa has suggested that one can help by being conscious of one’s footprint, take nothing but photos, minimize waste, buy local, do not disturb flora and fauna, respect traditions, and choose responsible operators.

Try to contribute with your presence to the development of responsible and sustainable tourism building with your trip to a healthier and more solid planet.

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