Challenges facing Yogesh BhattaraiThe new tourism minister has to chart a new course to revitalise a promising industry.
The Oli administration appointed Yogesh Bhattarai as the new minister for culture, tourism and civil aviation on Wednesday, five months after the demise of the previous incumbent, Rabindra Adhikari. The position had been lying vacant since Adhikari died in a helicopter crash in Taplejung on February 27. While the recent move has been lauded by many, the newly inducted minister has many challenges ahead. Tourism and Nepal are synonymous. We never fail to boast about it but have repeatedly failed to capitalise on it.
According to Nepal Tourism Statistics 2017 published by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, 658,153 tourists visited the country for holiday or leisure purposes that year. In 2016, the number stood at 489,452. Therefore, the number of tourists visiting the country had increased by 34.5 percent. Similarly, when it comes to visiting the country for pilgrimage, if 82,830 visited Nepal in 2016, as many as 141,003 travellers visited the country in 2017, a staggering 70 percent increase. On the flip side, while the number of visitors has increased, the amount of money they spend in the country has been decreasing. According to statistics from the Tourism Ministry, the average spending per tourist per day dropped to $44 in 2018—the lowest in seven years. The average spending was $54 per day in 2017.
The Visit Nepal 2020 campaign aims to attract 2 million foreign tourists and earn Rs200 billion. Achieving the target, however, is going to require more work than simply drafting a plan, and this is an immediate challenge confronting Bhattarai. Various news reports reveal that the campaign has been marred by delays and controversies, which many have attributed to the absence of a top leader at the Tourism Ministry. Immediately, Bhattarai needs to be innovative and focus on creating sustainable growth in the tourism industry. For long, the authorities concerned have paid extreme importance to, say, the construction of roads and trails. While this attention is valid, it usually misses out on the service side.
What’s more, when the government tries to do something innovative to boost the demand side, it faces massive opposition from various sectors of society. Given that, one of the biggest challenges for Minister Bhattarai will be building consensus among various individuals by convincing them through well-researched business proposals. Moreover, the tourism sector is in dire need of rebranding. The old methods being used to promote tourism need to be jettisoned to make way for new ones. Promoting tourism only through, say, the BBC or CNN will no longer be effective, given how users are increasingly consuming content through newer avenues like Instagram.
These are but a few challenges in front of the new minister at the moment. If spoken at large, the tourism industry has numerous problems—from improving Tribhuvan International Airport to enhancing connectivity across the region and making way for innovative approaches at the policy level. If the minister is serious about improving the tourism sector as he claimed during his election campaign, this is his chance.