Overambitious Campaign

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With the share of foreign tourists standing at 49 percent, the target of two million is doomed.

Visit Nepal Year 2020 targets two million international tourists. However, looking at the decreasing rate of incoming tourists in 2019, the campaign may be at a great disadvantage. The tourist growth was merely 2 percent last year. For the campaign to be successful, the rate of tourist growth needs to reach an overambitious target of 70 percent. A series of unfortunate events that occurred in the first month of the campaign could propagate subsequent failure and further disappointment.

A total of 995,884 foreigners and 1,252,236 Nepalis arrived at TIA while another 209,365 arrived through land, of which 201,307 were foreigners. The share of foreigners is roughly 49 percent of the arrivals. The total number of flights arriving at TIA per day in January 2020 was 32. Assuming an average passenger count of 200 per carrier, the total number for the year can be 2,336,000 (6,400 per day). At 49 percent arrival rate of foreigners, the target of two million tourists will be doomed as it requires an increment of 70 percent growth over 2019. This growth requires 700,000 more tourists coming by air. For bringing additional tourists, there need to be more flights; 3500 per year i.e. nine more planes arriving at TIA per day carrying only foreigners, which is next to impossible. Also, from the above data, it is safe to say that Nepal needs 18 more airplanes per day to maintain the foreign and Nepali ratio. Technically, it seems impossible to bring two million tourists this year.

What’s more, a series of missteps have further jeopardised the prospect of attracting a record number of tourists this year. Nepal Tourism Board began its campaign for Visit Nepal 2020, but the organisation was without a head for until the last week of January. Dhananjaya Regmi was appointed the CEO of Nepal Tourism Board after the position had lain vacant for more than a month. A crucial month for the campaign was put in jeopardy due to the delay.

Likewise, Nepal Airlines Corporation has faced hindrances over the past few years. The procurement of new aircraft was obscure, which raised suspicions of corruption. Following the allegations on Sugat Ratna Kanaskar, Madan Kharel was appointed to the post of Executive Chairman to drag NAC out of the pit. However, Kharel resigned on January 19 citing lack of cooperation from the NAC Board. His resignation could hinder the campaign since the number of destinations NAC is serving at the moment will remain stagnant.

At the beginning of the year, Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai’s Visit Nepal rally in Sydney was condemned for being insensitive and inappropriate. On January 21, eight Indians were found dead at Everest Panorama Resort, Daman due to asphyxiation. This incident highlighted the shortcomings in the hospitality sector and their incapability to handle emergencies. After six hours of anticipation, the tourists were airlifted back to Kathmandu; there was no emergency medical support on-site. When the Ministry announced the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign, did the government bother to monitor whether the necessary infrastructure was available?

With the VNY 2020, the majority of tourists are expected to come from India. However, following the ban on Indian public vehicles in Pokhara, the number of Indians travelling to Nepal may subside. The ban was imposed citing traffic congestion and the visitors’ unawareness of traffic rules. The Ministry said they will lift the ban once the traffic is under control, but no announcement has been made yet. Besides, the ban was imposed to promote local transportation in Pokhara. The authorities can alternatively lift the ban and impose taxes on the Indian cars that enter Nepal. This measure will not discourage tourists while also collecting revenue.

Similarly, four Koreans and three Nepalis went missing while trekking in the Annapurna Base Camp circuit, after an avalanche hit the region. The rescue was hampered by heavy snowfall, and search operations were called off. A major tourist attraction for Nepal is its trekking routes; however, due to lack of security measures and uncalled natural calamities, like the avalanche, trekkers are discouraged from going on expeditions. The ministry could ban trekking during the offseason as an additional security measure.

As if all these incidents were not enough, the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus in China has claimed the lives of many. China is Nepal’s second-largest source market, but the following the epidemic and a travel ban, the campaign has already seen a roadblock in bringing tourists from China. Nepal was targeting 350,000 tourists from China this year. The official decision to impose travel restriction will sharply decelerate Chinese tourists, at least until the virus is contained. But hotel occupancy rates have already plummeted.

In 2011, the country had targeted one million tourists as part of the Visit Nepal campaign then. However, they were only able to meet 80 percent of the target. It took almost a decade to cross the one million mark. The government’s plan to double the tourist numbers within two years of reaching that one million mark seems farfetched.

Nepal’s infrastructure was never prepared to host and accommodate two million tourists. Hotel rooms are not enough to ensure two million tourists. Furthermore, not having enough aircraft to bring in the targeted tourists is like counting your chickens before they are hatched. Given the series of events in January, the chances of Visit Nepal 2020 being successful are very slim.

Author: Shraddha More

Photo: Pixabay

This article was first published in The Kathmandu Post on February 9, 2020

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