Dilli Raman Dhakal
Nepal is endowed with a unique topography. Nature has given a special attribute to Nepal- plain, hill, and mountains coalesced into one perfect entity. Nepal’s natural beauty is unparallel and immensely loved by tourists from all over the world.
Nepal remained virtually closed until 1950. With the political change in 1951, the country opened up its border for tourists, foreign officials and, businesses. Owing to limited roads access and flights the initial travelers’ access remained confined around Kathmandu valley. The construction of new roads, airfields, and hotels during 1960s and beyond opened up several new tourist locations and spots. The data available shows that by 1961 some 4000 tourists visited Nepal while in 1964 the arrival number reached 9526 and, 52930 in 1972. The tourist inflow continued growing while the graph remained steady during the period 1972-1978. It is evident that the growth during 1970s picked up because of the expanded access and facilities available in Kathmandu and other places. Tourism sector in Nepal is the largest industry and the largest source of foreign exchange and revenue. Also, the tourism sector is one of the leading employers providing direct and indirect jobs.
The government realizing the huge importance and potentialities of the tourism sector for the development of the country introduced the first tourism master plan in 1972. The master plan remained a milestone in Nepal’s tourism planning. With a purpose to further promote and boost the tourism industry, the country observed Visit Nepal Year 1998, Nepal Tourism Year 2011 as major events together with other promotional programs and activities in between. Despite the government and private sector attempts to achieve the targeted goals and broader purposes, previous Nepal Visit Years achieved much less than expected. However, despite the targeted arrival number of tourists of 1 million, the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 recorded, 736215 arrivals, a growth of 22.1 percent arrival. Other events too had been much below to the intended goal rather helped contributing to promote and publicize Nepal’s tourism initiatives, products, and services.
Considering the importance and opportunities of the tourism sector for economic prosperity, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) has planned to organize ‘Visit Nepal Year’ in 2020 to attract more tourists to the country. The government has set a target to bring in two million tourists each year by the targeted year. To achieve the targeted goals the government has prioritized some key activities to accomplish before the start of the year 2020. The key activities as planned are the early completion of the construction and expansion of the international and domestic airports, renovation of heritage sites and other tourism infrastructure in the country. The expansion of Tribhuwan International Airport and construction of Gautama Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa before 2020, along with the reconstruction of major heritage sites are vital programs needed to complete. On top of these programs, there are many other associated activities required to make the visiting year a success.
There are several legal and other policy-related issues to put in order before the start of the Visit Year 2020. The key policy-related issue is to review and amend the Tourism Act, the backbone or the core legal provision directing the industry towards the changed global context. Casino Regulation, the Travel and Trekking Regulation, and the Mountaineering Expedition Regulation are also to be reviewed and amended making all legal and regulatory instruments compatible to the spirit of Tourism Act, tourist-friendly and fitting to the changed global context. However, going through the amendment process, stakeholder’s views and suggestions must be accommodated so as to avoid any possible future confrontations and complications.
While planning to accomplish intended outputs, a proper coordination and strong partnership is a must between the government and stakeholders. There is much to do to enhance air and land connectivity, diversify the products, add more tourism spots & events, promote religious tourism, improve service quality, increase length of stay, enforce the code and conducts for those associated with tourism business, produce and retain qualified human resources and so on. Tourism entrepreneurs think that the publicity of visit year through our embassies, contacts, websites and other means should start from now and be a prioritized activity. Entrepreneurs were found confused and had no proper idea about the theme, marketing slogan, and logo of the Visit Year 2020.
In view of the new political structure, the local bodies, in particular, have a greater role to play. Better coordination among government line agencies at local, province and center will help the developmental initiative taken by the private parties who are directly involved in catering services. Hotels, travel agencies, airlines, transport companies, guides, potters and suppliers are the frontline service providers who need proper support and guidance from the government agencies. It’s observed that there is a lot to do on the part of government agencies and local bodies to support tourism entrepreneurs. That said the governments’ role to monitor and regulate the tourism industry is always there and is mandatory. Tourism is the best tool to earn foreign currency, skills, and making the connection to the outer world, but it also brings some negative effects if not properly managed and monitored. Not only for Visit Year 2020 but as a standing order, garbage management, environmental protection, cultural pollution, drug trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism like issues should be considered together with the broader promotional activities.
While revisiting the history of Visit Nepal Years and the data available shows that it’s difficult but not insurmountable to achieve the goals set for Visit Year 2020. Better to aim high but it’s bad to be over-ambitious. The target set for Visit Year 2020 looks too tall to achieve with the current pace of construction, renovation, and reconstruction of key heritage sites and infrastructures. Time is at the edge amending Tourism Act and associated rules and regulations. Over the past couple of years, tourism entrepreneurs have invested immensely establishing new star, budget hotels, and resorts in several places of tourist attraction. However, most of these facilities are not ready and seems hard to make the new facilities operational by the end of this year. Parties directly or indirectly should work hard to make the Visit Year 2020 a success while carefully understanding the ground realities. The remaining time ( 9 months) is limited, thus the Nepal Tourism Board, Dept. of Tourism, Tourism entrepreneurs, parliament, local bodies have to play an active role and be committed making the year a grand happening.