Travel and tourismNepal should enhance its travelling experience to draw 2.52 million tourists annually by 2025
The country marked the 38th World Tourism Day yesterday. Because of the earthquake and the unofficial Indian blockade, 2015 was a particularly bad year for the country’s tourism sector. Tourist arrivals to Nepal fell to a six-year low last year. However, the industry seems to have bounced back now. There has been a sharp increase in tourist arrivals for mountaineering and trekking activities in the past few months. This is a much needed respite for the tourism industry and the economy as a whole.
The travel and tourism sector accounts for 9.5 percent of global GDP and plays a key role as a driver of growth and job creation. The industry now accounts for one in 11 jobs on the planet according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). In terms of direct contribution to job creation by the industry, Nepal is ranked sixth among 184 countries by the WTTC. The Tourism Employment Survey 2014 of the Nepal government shows that every six tourists create one job in Nepal and that the tourism industry provides better access of revenues that it generates to poor communities.
This means Nepal’s economic growth and employment generation depend to a consideration extent on the advancement of the tourism sector. In a welcome move, the Tourism Ministry recently launched the new National Tourism Strategy 2016-2025, which envisages a fivefold increase in arrivals to 2.52 million annually by the year 2025.
Achieving the target, however, is going to require more work than simply drafting a plan. With eight of the 10 highest mountains in the world and a rich Hindu and Buddhist heritage, Nepal does have a high potential to be a tourist hotspot, but it is far from realising it. The annual number of visitors to the country has yet to reach the one million mark. Last year’s quake and the subsequent avalanches in the Himalayas dented Nepal’s image as a safe tourist destination. So the government needs to repair the trekking routes and enhance their safety.
But the main focus of government spending in the tourism sector should be on developing infrastructures like airports. Flying is key to the country’s tourism industry as it is an important mode of transportation in Nepal given its difficult terrain and limited road connectivity. But our air safety record leaves a lot to be desired; there have been four air crashes in the past six months alone. As such, improving the quality of our aviation needs serious attention. And the country’s only international airport, the Tribhuvan International Airport, has just one runway and was rated the third worst airport in the world last year by sleepinginairports.com, a website that does research on airports. TIA needs a complete overhaul.
Other tasks like upgrading the Gautam Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa to an international airport should also be completed on time. With China and India touching 150 million and 50 million outbound tourists by 2020, Nepal’s best bet to meet its set tourist target is to enhance the travelling experience within the country so as to attract at least a fraction of these tourists.