A game changerNew international airport will be crucial to the tourism and economic development of Pokhara
Published at : August 21, 2018
Updated at : August 21, 2018 12:57
The new airport in Pokhara is being built at an estimated cost of $305 million (including grant and loan). It is a significant asset investment for a metropolis and a province with an annual budget of $65 million & $145 million respectively. We have two possible paths before us. Either we continue the current path of low growth and complacency. Or we change course to a path of robust growth and prosperity. Let me elaborate on the latter that aims to make the investment in an airport a meaningful one.
Re-imagining the urban plan
Tourism in and around Pokhara is now an almost four-decades-long dynamic experience. the lake city has become a better-known destination with international travellers, mostly for mountain adventures. It is also a gateway to several micro-destinations and attractions in the region. However, Pokhara is not a business hub. In addition, we cannot expect international visitor traffic like in Kathmandu, due to the absence of international organisations and foreign embassies. Currently, our tourism season is short and barely keeps local businesses busy for six months a year.
An objective acknowledgment of the reality presented above is particularly significant in view of the new airport. An obvious question is do we want a ghost airport, like in case of the Mattala Rajapaksa Airport in Sri Lanka, or a vibrant functional airport, such as Shinoukville airport and Siemreap-Angkor airport in Cambodia, with a robust return on investment? For the purpose of clarity, all the three airports referenced above and the one currently under construction in Pokhara are of comparable nature.
Pokhara must aspire to be a top destination in the region for international tourism. One feasible way is to quickly diversify our existing tourism demand generator base to accommodate several other sources that have the capacity to deliver on the scale we desire.
As the largest metropolis in the country, Pokhara must re-imagine its urban plan in a bid to become a major tourism hub in South Asia. Our model must envision having an airport as a central ‘hub’ and several ‘planned developments’ within the metropolis as vibrant ‘spokes’. A good conceptualisation of this model will ensure our competitiveness to attract world-class companies which match our destination.
The role of our municipality must be to provide necessary public infrastructure and utilities including reliable power, water supply and law enforcement amongst others. These critical services make a city more liveable for citizens as well as visitors. For example, we could have an education city with some of the best centres of tertiary education, a healthcare city with various centres of health & wellness and a sports city with stadiums and training facilities, all smartly connected by a modern transportation system.
This model will help us diversify our product mix and lead to open a non-mountain-centred tourism-revenue stream. The majority of product development will be through private investments. This will relieve local authorities from capital pressure and allow them to focus on making a good regulatory framework instead. The benefits for the municipality are primarily the lease fees and royalty. Another benefit would be large-scale employment opportunities to local residents.
Many fiercely competitive tourism-oriented cities such as Dubai, Singapore, and Bangkok have all adopted some variant of this model. In lieu of choosing this model, these vibrant metropolis have succeeded in attracting the best brands, companies, and top talent to keep their tourism competitive index high.
Evidence from around the world and experiences of inadequacies of our own suggest that domestic resources alone cannot achieve success in international tourism. We need foreign resources, both capital, and human, for building projects and for training people. Hence, none of the above is possible without a business-friendly policy.
In order to succeed in international tourism, we must adopt a liberal approach on soliciting foreign direct investment as well as ease of doing business. Pokhara must aspire to be the most business-friendly city in Nepal. Our processes for registering a business, obtaining labour permits and obtaining work visas for skilled foreign professionals and such should be made easy. In addition, our local authorities must convince the provincial government to negotiate with the federal government on several of these above-identified sticky areas that currently remain out of their jurisdiction.
Our municipality at the local level and the provincial government must ensure and encourage a transparent and fair business environment at all times. As long as our business culture emanates and instils this kind of positive confidence in those who seek to do business with us, our city will continue to flourish and open many lucrative avenues for future collaborations.
Gurung is a tourism entrepreneur.