Tourism Minister’s Visit Nepal rally in Sydney condemned for being insensitive and inappropriateYogesh Bhattarai held a rally to draw Australian tourists to Nepal while the country reels under massive bushfires across millions of hectares.
Massive bushfires are currently raging across Australia, engulfing millions of hectares of land. At least 24 people have been killed and millions of animals feared dead while thousands of people are being evacuated to safer locations.
Amid this apocalyptic scenario, Nepal’s tourism minister Yogesh Bhattarai, on Tuesday, inaugurated the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign in Sydney, the capital of Australia’s New South Wales, where the brunt of the fires is.
The reaction on social media was swift, calling Bhattarai’s decision to travel to Australia and lead a tourism campaign insensitive, ridiculous and inappropriate.
“This is absolutely not [the] right way and [the] right time for such rally, [e]specially when Australia is having such a rough and tough time, that too for commercial purposes... S[h]ame on you comrade,” said Pawan Raj Phuyal on Twitter.
The campaign in Australia attracted even more controversy after a rally of around 500 people, including the minister, was stopped by Sydney police for not having a permit.
Back in July, when Bhattarai was appointed tourism minister, expectations were high. Bhattarai was seen as a young and charismatic leader who would bring new ideas to the Tourism Ministry and the Visit Nepal campaign. But his ideas have largely been seen as divisive and inappropriate, including a plan to play the national anthem at Pashupati.
Bhattarai has often reiterated the government’s target of increasing tourism’s contribution to the country’s GDP by 10 percent in the near future. To achieve this, Nepal’s tourism income will need to increase five-fold to Rs350 billion annually, up from the Rs73.57 billion earned in 2018-19.
Tourists from Australia could contribute to this target, as after the 2015 earthquake, arrivals from down under have been increasing at a healthy rate, reaching 38,429 individuals in 2018, according to government statistics.
But for many, the timing of the campaign only added insult to injury.
Madan Dhaurali, a Nepali living in Sydney, told the Post over the phone that it was not the right time to promote Nepal in Australia as the entire country is mourning. “Australia has become a global headline, and it’s a nonsensical idea to promote Nepal there at this moment,” said Dharauli.
Bhattarai’s trip—and the rally to promote Visit Nepal campaign—comes the same week Australia’s national tourism body put a pause on its star-studded, multi-million dollar promotion campaign aimed at luring visitors to Australia.
Dinesh Pokhrel, the Visit Nepal 2020 coordinator in Australia representing the Non-Resident Nepalese Association, also admitted the timing was a poor decision made by the Nepali Embassy and Consulate General of Nepal in Sydney. Pokhrel said that he had informed the consulate general and the embassy regarding the humanitarian crisis and urged that the event be postponed.
“As it was a pre-scheduled trip, the embassy officials decided not to cancel it,” said Pokhrel. “The original plan was for a gala event with at least 4,000 people but we decided to make it a smaller event.”
There was an open programme at the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday morning, followed by a gala dinner that night at the House of Representatives Chamber where 200 people, including 100 Australian officials, were invited, Pokhrel said.
Pokhrel, however, said that news reports regarding the police stopping the tourism rally were false.
“There are some restricted areas in the Opera House where people are not allowed to take flags, banners or even cameras,” he said.
The Australia-based southasia.com.au news portal, which first reported the story, had said that the “Events Planning Unit of the NSW Police had explicitly asked the organisers not to conduct the ‘procession for a number of reasons’ including the fact that the event was ‘promotional and for commercial gain’ which was ‘not in keeping with the legislation regarding a right to protest’.”
Hours after the news broke, Bhattarai issued a press statement saying it was all “propaganda” to defame him.
But some tourism board officials have questioned the rationale behind promoting a country’s tourism by organising a rally on the streets.
“It’s the digital era. The minister should understand that digital marketing is the appropriate channel to create, accelerate, and transmit product value to the target audience, not organising a rally at the Sydney Opera House,” said a senior official at the Nepal Tourism Board. “A rally will not work to bring tourists, neither will beating drums at Dashrath Stadium.”