Bored by politicsThe hospitality culture is Nepal’s greatest tourism asset, and it is in danger of waning
Naresh Koirala has made a point in his article published in these pages on January 4 that clearly reflects our national reality: “It has reinforced the idea that the best politics is repeating lies; value-based politics, ethics and integrity are anachronisms.” Loud declarations and reassurances to fulfil old commitments by big politicians have only diminished the faith and expectations of the common people. Nepal’s long wish to bring 1 million tourists annually remains a pipe dream. Policy inconsistencies and paralyses, underperformance, delayed decisions and overlapping actions are major stumbling blocks to the realisation of the goal. Tourism is a multi-disciplinary subject, hence its tentacles are spread over multiple realms of the economy. Tourism, as in the past, does not merely deal with tourists; it has been called an integral, dependent and most vulnerable industry.
Tourism entrepreneurs are euphoric over the news that our national flag carrier is procuring two wide body jets. This will certainly provide a boost on some potential competitive sectors with high pent-up demand. Nepal Airlines has pivotal importance mainly in times of emergency and pressing domestic need. During these times, the law of necessity prevails over costs and benefits. The country has to garner managerial acumen either by producing it indigenously or by importing it from overseas to run the business.
We have ample examples of the way our national industries established by friendly nations were dismantled during the privatisation frenzy of the post-Panchayat era. The country has to refurbish its brand image in order to run the business. The European Union has imposed a ban on our airlines due to their poor safety record. As long as these hindrances are not sorted out, immigration facilities are not attuned to modernisation, proactive assertions to counter offers by no-frill airlines are not thrown at the cutthroat market and substantive offers are not synthesised with high-value additions, it will be nearly impossible to transform potential travellers into tourists.
Nepal neither had a large fleet of planes nor a network as it has today when the Nepali people established their their native brands in the international market and received a sizeable number of tourists. In those days, the country was perceived as an enchanting destination renowned for its stability, diversity, calm, quiet and mesmerising hospitality. Tourists will only look at the hospitality part when judging the tourism potential of this country, and that is what will boost arrivals and result in greater business for our airlines. Mere lip service by our politicians and ministers will not attract tourists to Nepal as the prevailing political stalemate has diminished our brand status.
We have seen over the years that politics has been a driving force to propel other sectors. Wrangling over the constitution amendment bill and creating a furore by polarising marginalised communities has spread fear psychosis among the Nepali people, and more so among foreigners coming here to experience our rich diversity. Thus, tourist enticements only work when the country is in a stable position. Who would want to go to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or Yemen even if there were wonderful offers? I certainly do not intend to compare our status with theirs, but I have simply cited them to draw an analogy.
Indian Prime Minister Modi’s demonetisation move and the travel advisory issued against Nepal by China may have a massive effect on tourist arrivals. Indians account for the largest tourist arrivals to Nepal, and they are also large spenders (casinos, temples, shopping, restaurants and other means of recreation). Now, with the decline in their numbers, there is a high chance of businesses seeing a drop in revenues. Barring a few restaurants and food stalls in Thamel and Pokhara, a sizeable number of hotels and restaurants are surviving due to the business provided by Nepali revellers. This trend is also not bad in terms of self-sustenance, however, this surely is not what we are working for. As a result, cosmopolitan service offers by our vendors are gradually declining to the local level.
Vulnerable and contagious trade
The latest drive by Nepal Tourism Board to celebrate Visit Nepal Year 2018 in Europe is commendable, but it should think about the aviation embargo. As in the past, it should try to get national and international governmental and non-governmental entities to participate. Tourism is the only trade where the private sector has a good hold. In third-world countries, general revellers do not attach immense importance to the announcements of the government and political parties, but they trust private entrepreneurs, particularly with regard to obtaining tourism information. Therefore, bringing airlines, hotels and the travel industry together and devising a niche promotional campaign with the aim of hitting select markets can help to generate results.
Political events have led to a slowdown in the growth of all sectors. Tourism is a very vulnerable and contagious trade. When the people are sick, tired, polarised and disgusted, and the feeling of nationalism is at its lowest ebb, there is a chance that they may forget the culture of hospitality, which is the greatest tourism asset of this country. Hence, this scribe has reiterated in many articles and public forums that the day Nepalis forget to treat foreigners as part of their culture and tradition, tourism will not grow despite the government’s million-dollar promos.
Baral is associated with the tourism industry