Tourism as soft powerInvesting in the tourism industry will do more than just generate income
In today’s globalised and interdependent world, international relations is becoming one of the most vital components in our pursuit to protect the national interests of any nation. Countries have progressed in various aspects of development, such as infrastructure, technology, transportation, communication and so forth. In this context, tourism has become a booming sector in terms of achieving national development.
For developing countries like Nepal, tourism can play a vital role as a form of economic, public and soft power. Nepal is rich in natural gifts, resources and wonders with our own diverse cultural, historical and religious heritage. As a form of soft power, tourism can play an active role in promoting people-to-people contact within the Asian region and globe and thereby promote peace, friendship, cooperation and economic growth.
Through tourism, Nepal holds the ability to influence the perception of international actors and affect foreign policy outcome by allowing more people to engage with the culture and values of Nepal. In this globalised world, where civil society, cities, I/NGOs are increasingly important in the development arena, soft power plays a vital role in multiplying Nepal’s influence and increases the likelihood of success in its foreign policy objectives.
Travel connects people and places. Tourism connects global audiences with some of our strongest soft power resources, exposing them to our culture whilst supporting the economy. As Edward R Murrow stated, “The real link in the international exchange is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.” Tourism can be this bridge.
Tourism helps to stimulate GDP growth, increase international trade, boost international investment and drive infrastructure development. In 2017, tourism contributed Rs 91 billion to Nepal’s economy and it is a major contributor to the GDP, accounting for more than 3 percent of Nepal’s total economy.
Visit Nepal 2020 presents an important opportunity to promote and create new and compelling narratives about Nepal’s culture, heritage and natural beauty. The fact that Nepal is a member of the UN World Tourism Organisation, and has diplomatic relations with more than 150 countries with resident embassies in 30 countries also puts us at a prime position to promote Nepali tourism overseas.
The importance of tourism to promote a positive image of Nepal in the world community has been widely recognised by the government of Nepal, and it has organised several government-led tourism campaigns including Visit Nepal 1998, Visit Nepal 2011 and Visit Nepal-Europe 2017. Now that the foundation has been laid, we must take this opportunity to strengthen our commitment to not only bring tourists into the country but also to leave them with a positive image of Nepal that they can promote within their own communities.
A multi-stakeholder approach
Nepal should also strongly promote tourism through regional and international cooperation. Hosting seminars and conferences in regional forums to discuss new approaches to tourism can be a strategic diplomatic tactic. But it is not enough to have these conversations behind closed doors; they need to be accessible to the wider public. Social networking sites can facilitate this sense of openness by allowing people outside these spaces to participate in the dialogue.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal and the Nepal Tourism Board needs to engage in a variety of other stakeholders, including the youth, business groups and NGOs, to work in collaboration to promote, protect and influence the image of the nation through tourism. The Institute of Foreign Affairs and other research agencies also need to proactively explore the approach of using tourism as a form of soft power instead of only viewing it as a way to generate income for the nation. By recognising its potential beyond income generation, we can find new ways to strengthen our diplomatic credibility in the international arena.
This approach to tourism can also be strengthened from the outside. Nepalis residing outside of Nepal can assist in organising various cross-cultural exchanges to promote the image of the country in International contexts. In modern diplomacy, recognising the potential of using tourism as a form of soft power will do more than bring income to Nepal; it will create new narratives about the country and promote positive diplomatic relations with our neighbours.
Bhusal is pursuing his master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy at Tribhuvan University