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Nepal will further enhance its tourism products in coming days: Tourism Minister

Feb 03 2016 | 01:03 pm
Ananda Prasad

Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Ananda Prasad Pokharel

As a new Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation, what are the challenges that lay ahead of you and what are you going to do to resolve them?

Nepal’s tourism industry chiefly relies on the same 3-4 tourism products (for its sustenance) that the country has been offering to visitors for the last six decades since it opened up its border to the outside world. The first is adventure tourism, as many mountaineers, trekkers and adventure enthusiasts come to Nepal to climb or see some of the tallest peaks in the world including Mt Everest, indulge in adventure sports like rafting and kayaking, and experiencing the joy of hiking through some of the most remote and beautiful trails in the world. Tourists also come here to experience Nepal’s unique culture and art as well as for religious purposes and last but not the least, tourists come here for the sheer natural beauty and abundant bio diversity Nepal has to offer alongside the hospitality of Nepali people.

However, apart from our inability to explore tourism areas and avenues that have potential, the main problem that is hindering the development of tourism industry in the country is that the aforementioned tourism products haven’t undergone any significant changes in all these years, which has put it at risk of being obsolete. So, in the coming days we have to try to increase the prospects as well as potential of tourism industry in the country by not only watching the new trends and developments in tourism sector worldwide, but thinking about ways to further enhance the tourism products we already have. Talking about new avenues for tourism, there seems to be great scope in the area of climate smart tourism and eco tourism. While seeking ways to enhance religious and cultural tourism in the country, we are giving utmost importance to the development of Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha. All my energy will go into promotion and development of Lumbini in order to turn into a main destination for Buddhists all over the world and make it a world-class city of prayer, worship and religion. I have also made development of Pashupati area as another important priority to attract large number of people of Hindu faith from all over the world and turn it into an important religious center. However, at the moment the main challenge posed to the country as well as tourism industry, one of the mainstays of national economy, is the need to strengthen air service as well as connectivity both within the country and outside. This is because for a land-locked country like Nepal, development of air service is very important as well crucial from both development as well as strategic point of view.

What are you plans for developing necessary tourism infrastructure to accommodate more tourists?

While talking about developing tourism infrastructure, I see that there is man-made problem made more complex by lack of vision among people concerned with the sector. We made the mistake of not giving the country’s tourism sector the kind of priority and importance it requires in the last sixty years, because of which the flow of investments channeled into the sector stagnated in the long run. So, my focus as a Tourism Minister will be to make the tourism industry the first priority sector of the state in order to enhance the economy of the country. For that we have to invest in developing necessary tourism infrastructure so that we can attract more tourists for the overall economic development of the country.

There has been downfall in tourist arrivals by nearly 50 percent and hotel occupancy has also come down to 15 percent as a result of the April earthquake and subsequent blockade. Does the government have plans to come up with some kind of incentive or subsidies to the tourism sector?

Not just tourism, but each and every area and sector of the country’s economy have been badly affected by the earthquake and subsequent blockade. But on top of being one of the hardest hit sectors, the tourism industry of the country is also reeling under the false rumor that Nepal is somehow not safe. So our focus should be to organize campaigns, awareness programs, and seminars to do away with such rumor and promote Nepal as a safe destination. About providing incentives or subsidies, I believe if the government is able to create a conducive environment for bringing more tourists into the country by disseminating the truth that only few tourism destinations within Nepal have suffered damages due to the earthquake, then that would be the biggest incentive to the tourism industry. Therefore, our focus will be centered on that. Apart from financial aid and assistance, our neighbors and donor countries can also help us in post-quake reconstruction and development activities by encouraging their citizens to visit Nepal, an act which will help the quake and blockade hit country recover its fragile economy. Regarding the crippling effect the ongoing fuel crisis is having on the aviation and hospitality industry, I have personally requested the supply ministry to arrange necessary fuel so that they can at least carry out their normal operations. The White Paper on economy has already announced measures like interest rate waiver to give some respite to the ailing tourism sector of the country.

The protracted political turmoil in Tarai has become the biggest concern for tourism entrepreneurs as well as tourists visiting the country. When will this imbroglio end?

We have two amendment proposal to the new constitution registered at the parliament, and the issue of demarcation of federal units will probably be decided by a separate commission. The government has shown maximum flexibility during talks with agitating Tarai parties, but the latter remain adamant on their stance, delay in settlement of the issue in an amicable manner.

Lately, the number of Chinese tourists coming into Nepal has witnessed a significant rise. How important are Chinese tourists for the future of Nepal’s tourism and its growth?

We have seen such a rapid increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Nepal in the last one decade since China granted approved destination status to Nepal that China has become the number two tourism source market for Nepal and only lags behind India in terms of number of visitors coming into Nepal. In the days to come, we have to develop excellent tourism products and necessary services and infrastructures to complement them in order to attract even bigger number of Chinese tourists into Nepal. Lumbini is one of the most popular and attractive destinations for Chinese Buddhists, and they take this birthplace of Lord Buddha as their spiritual home. The sudden decrease in the number of tourists visiting Nepal following the earthquake and subsequent blockade is by far a temporary phenomenon. The government of Nepal will soon start holding talks with Chinese officials and travel agencies to find ways to attract more Chinese tourists in Nepal while doing everything necessary to create a favorable environment for them in Nepal so that they have the best time and experience in the country. The government believes that China will edge out India to become the biggest tourist source market for Nepal and will contribute a lot for the growth of tourism industry as well as help the Nepali economy recover from recession it is facing at the moment.

Increasing as well as improving land and air connectivity with China remains the biggest challenge Nepal faces in its quest to increase the number of Chinese tourists visiting Nepal. How would you address this challenge?

We have officially conveyed the message to the Chinese government that we should consider opening border points in all 15 districts that are connected with China. There has been agreement between the two sides to develop additional seven border points as trade routes. In the current context, people in the mountain districts want all border points with China opened at the earliest. I would also like to draw the attention of the Chinese government that they should fulfill this aspiration of Nepali people in a proactive manner.

As far as air connectivity is concerned, two Chinese airlines have already stalled their Nepal operations following the earthquake and the fuel crisis. We have to take definite steps to make them resume their flights to Nepal at the earliest. In order to expand air connectivity with China, Nepal Airlines Corporation should add more aircraft in its current fleet and make its service reliable and efficient. Currently, it has a limited number of aircraft which has hindered its ability to show its presence in Chinese cities. That is why NAC has is preparing to purchase new aircraft with an aim to increase connectivity with China and serve the growing tourism market.

Even though China is one of the largest source markets for Nepal’s tourism, there is no direct air connectivity between Kathmandu and major Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing. What can be done to establish direct air links with these cities?

Without direct air connectivity with Tibet, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, we cannot hope to attract desired number of Chinese tourists into Nepal. So we have to move ahead through constant interaction between the two governments and concerned ministries to ensure enhanced air connectivity that will not only lower travel time for Chinese tourists to come to Nepal but also reduce the expensive air fares.  APD



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