Don’t run interference on tourismThe tourism board cannot function without its head when Visit Nepal has begun.
This is Visit Nepal year. If the promotion boards popping up around the country have not made their mark, the repeated gaffes surrounding the promotion of Visit Nepal 2020 has surely informed everyone with an interest in Nepal that this year is for tourism. But even as the country’s tourism sector faces the major hurdle of doubling tourist numbers in this crucial year, the Nepal Tourism Board remains without a chief executive to lead the charge.
This is troubling; more so because the tourism board was envisioned as a non-political body (half of its board comprising of private sector representatives) solely charged with boosting Nepal’s standing with travellers. Yet, political interests have seeped in through the cracks, holding the very functioning of this board hostage. The board’s members are ready to hire a candidate based on merit, but the half of the board controlled by the government seems hell-bent on rejecting meritocracy—political leaders want their ‘man’ in charge. Putting petty politics, factionalism and cronyism into otherwise clear-cut situations appears to be the hallmark of public affairs in Nepal. It was hoped that this two-thirds-majority-wielding federal government would finally put an end to political bargaining. However, it has been one of the most flagrant users of seat and power peddling.
The recent episode began when Deepak Raj Joshi, the previous CEO, refused a three-month extension offered to him in early December in order to vie for a full second term. Accepting the extension would have made Joshi ineligible for the lucrative job, which puts the chief executive in control of an annual budget of more than Rs1 billion. With Joshi’s term expiring on December 24, a three-member sub-committee (along with two additional invitee experts) began to search for and grade deserving candidates.
Dhananjay Regmi received the highest score by a big margin; Joshi did not even make it to the top three. A meeting of the board that was supposed to have announced the new CEO, scheduled for January 19, was cancelled at the last minute, apparently because Baluwatar wasn’t happy that Regmi received the highest marks. There seems to be significant political pressure building up in the background. This is a blatant misuse of power, not to mention that it has the potential to severely debilitate tourism promotion.
As it is, Visit Nepal has not received the best publicity to date. There have been several serious errors. Back in July 2019, it was found that Visit Nepal posters in London were carrying images of Thailand. Moreover, promotional photos, videos, and even the official website were not near ready until the second half of 2019. Then, money was spent on useless launch parties, hosted by Nepal’s embassies around the world, that were mostly attended by bureaucrats and non-resident Nepalis, obviously not the intended targets of the campaign. Most embarrassingly, Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai insensitively flew to Australia—when the country was facing its worst case of bushfires in history—to promote Visit Nepal.
Now, by delaying the process of announcing a new CEO for the tourism board, even after the candidates have been shortlisted—one being the clear frontrunner—the government is actively seeking to undermine its own tourism promotion endeavours. The government must backpedal on such corrupt behaviour. It needs to support the tourism board in its quest to find an able and qualified leader for the next four years. Moreover, it needs to let the board decide in haste; the body cannot be expected to function without its head right when Visit Nepal has begun.
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