Tourism industry scrambles to restore faith

The April 25 Earthquake caused massive destruction and loss of lives in 14 out of the country’s 75 districts. But from a tourism perspective, the most damaging impact was on visitor perceptions.

Nepal experienced a significant decline in tourist arrivals as a result. Cancellations of advance bookings following the disaster flooded in and tourist numbers plunged 90 percent during the period May to July.

Sensational international media coverage was even more destructive for Nepal’s Tourism as it changed the perception of visitors instantly. The challenge involves restoring confidence in key tourist source markets. Tourism Entrepreneurs are confident that the next fiscal year’s budget including the government’s strategies will be vital in addressing the industry’s troubles in a more sustainable way.

The policies and programmes of the government unveiled on Wednesday has accorded priority to the reconstruction, conservation and promotion of archaeological, historical and cultural heritage sites to develop them as attractive and safe tourist destinations.

The policy draft presented on the eve of the issuance of the fiscal year budget 2015-16 has specified that a campaign will be conducted through diplomatic missions and the Non-Resident Nepali Association to disseminate information about the actual situation in Nepal that most of heritage sites and destinations are safe and that it is safe to visit the country.

Besides, the promotion and marketing Nepal’s tourism sites will be carried out in the international market including in neighbouring countries China and India, the government policy says.

“The sensational media coverage has indeed played a negative role. However, the need of the hour is to disseminate a positive message that Nepal is safe to visit,” said Mohan Krishna Sapkota, spokesperson of the Tourism Ministry.

“A high-powered National Tourism Promotion Committee, which is chaired by Tourism Minister Kripasur Sherpa, has taken a number of measures to revive Nepal’s tourism which hit rock bottom after the Earthquake .”

CAUSE AND EFFECT

Before the earthquake , the Tourism Ministry had set a target of receiving 1.1 million tourists by this year. But the figure has been revised substantially to 475,000 after the disaster. The average length of stay of tourist to Nepal has been revised downward to 7 days from 12.44 days.

Meanwhile, the per day spending of visitors is expected to drop to $28 each from $46 as projected before the earthquake . An estimated Rs62.4 billion has been expected to be lost in revenues due to the destruction and non-availability of tourism facilities and a drastic decline in foreign tourist arrivals after the disaster.

The tourism sector has sustained significant physical damage in the 14 affected districts, but more importantly, it is expected

to suffer major economic losses over the next two-three years

as a result of the earthquake , a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report said.

Hotels in the quake-affected areas suffered property losses in the amount of Rs16 billion. Domestic airlines reported revenue losses of about Rs400 million during the month following the earthquake . The Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal has reported that 40,000 employees (guides, porters and cooks) engaged in the trekking sector at the major destinations had no work during the period May to July and were sent home.

REAL SITUATION

According to the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), only 14 out of the 75 districts in the country have been affected by the earthquake . Chitwan, Pokhara, Lumbini, Bardia, Annapurna, Everest and the Eastern and Far Western regions of Nepal were unharmed by the quake and are ready for business.

Among the 19 protected areas, only three were affected. More than 90 percent of the hotels and restaurants in the Kathmandu Valley are in operation. “Although, damage to Kathmandu’s heritage sites was a big loss for the country’s tourism, a majority of trekking locations are open for business,” said Tourism Minister Kripasur Sherpa. “We have lost only 15 percent of our tourism products. And we are optimistic that the restoration of Kathmandu’s major attractions will take just two to three years.”

Almost all the countries had issued travel advisories telling their citizens not to visit Nepal in the immediate aftermath of the Earthquake . However, three countries-the US, the UK and

New Zealand-have lifted restrictions on their citizens travelling to Nepal, except to districts hit hard by the earthquake . More countries are likely to follow suit, NTB officials said.

Social media platforms are also abuzz with appeals urging tourists to visit Nepal and contribute to the country’s economy. Photos of tourists cheerfully holding placards saying “I am in Nepal” are a common sight on social networks. With all these positive things happening, travel trade entrepreneurs are to some extent happy to see the country’s tourism coming back on track.  

The NTB has started familiarization visits of various international media to shape opinions regarding Nepal in major source markets as a part of the tourism recovery to challenge negative perceptions.

PROMOTIONAL STRATEGY

The PDNA report has urged the government to announce 2017 and 2018 as Visit Nepal Year to assure visitors that reconstruction and rehabilitation will be completed by then.

The report said that initially there was a need to re-build and re-brand the image of tourism, and significant efforts and resources would be required to do this.

As the NTB and the private sector have been spending a total of Rs2.20 billion annually on tourism marketing and promotion during normal times, the outlay has to be increased multiple-fold to revive the market, said the report.

Hari Sarmah, chief executive officer of the Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents, said that the government’s strategic plan to revive the tourism industry seemed to be effective but the private sector was sceptical whether it would be implemented in a transparent manner.

The budget should address the infrastructure needs for sustainable development of Nepal’s tourism industry, said Sarmah. “On the promotional front which is not addressed by the budget, it should be focused on tourist generating countries.”

Spokesperson Sapkota said that the 36-member high-level National Tourism Promotion Committee had got together to launch tour packages at attractive and affordable rates in a bid to boost flagging tourist arrivals. The panel has decided to request the Finance Ministry and the Commerce and Supply Ministry to waive VAT on aviation fuel to allow carriers to reduce airfares.

Likewise, the committee has decided to ask Nepal Airlines Corporation and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to cut ground handling fees and landing-parking charges respectively for foreign airlines. The committee has set up three sub-committees to carry out reconstruction and tourism promotion in an effective manner.

LONG-TERM STRATEGY

As a long-term strategy, the government has implemented Vision 2020 setting a goal to increase annual international tourist arrivals to Nepal to 2 million and augment economic opportunities and increase employment in the tourism sector to 1 million.

The vision plans to identify and develop potential tourist places as tourism satellite sites. It is focused on increasing government spending in the tourism sector by developing infrastructures like airports, trails, tourism attractions and facilities.

Likewise, the Tourism Ministry has developed a new National Tourism Strategy and Action Plan (2015-2024). The proposed strategy will be implemented in two stages. According to Sapkota, Phase 1 will last from 2014 to 2018 and the strategy has given emphasis to diversification of tourism products and improvement of livelihoods.

Phase 2 will last from 2019 to 2023 and its emphasis will be on consolidating the new products and locations developed during Phase 1, opening new areas, expanding the product range and targeting new high-yield markets.

“The construction of Bhairahawa International Airport will be completed by 2017 and it will help promote Lumbini as a Buddhist pilgrimage hub,” said Sapkota. “With the expansion of Tribhuvan International Airport and Gautam Buddha Airport, the government’s target of hosting 2 million tourists by 2020 looks achievable.” More than Rs5 billion has been set aside for the development of the airport infrastructure and enhancement of aviation safety in the next fiscal year’s budget.

Source : Ekantipur

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