Nepal must focus on destination promotion: Phuyal
Chhabi Lal Phuyal is a well-known name in the Nepalese travel trade industry. Phuyal, the Executive Director of My Nepal Adventure Tours & Travels (P) Limited, is a creative and self-motivated tour operator. Born into a middle-class family about 48 years ago in Kavresthali village (now Tarkeshwar Municipality) of the Kathmandu district, Phuyal has come to limelight due to his remarkable success in his business within a short period. Having started his career in the tourism sector as a hotel receptionist about two decades ago, he now feels proud of being a leading entrepreneur and employer.
Established in 2002, his travel company was recognized for bringing in the largest number of tourists from China in 2011. He says Nepal holds a bright future for tourism if the political parties stop calling for strikes and creating other forms of disturbance.
He has continued to diversify his businesses by exploring various tourist generating markets and other trade sectors like the information technology (IT). Affiliated to a number of professional and social organizations, Phuyal also has been contributing to social services by providing the underprivileged rural children with scholarships through the Bhim Kumari Phuyal Memorial Trust.
Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal caught up with the widely travelled and perceptive tourism entrepreneur to talk about the current tourism scenario of Nepal, other relevant tourism issues and the mystery behind his tremendous success. Excerpts:
As an inbound tour operator, how do you view Nepal’s present tourism scenario?
Our overall tourism situation is encouraging as international tour operators as well as prospective tourists have been showing their interest in Nepal. Despite the lingering political transition, Nepal has continued to be a preferred destination among those enjoying the unparalleled natural beauty, cultural diversity and adventure sports.
Because of increasing air connectivity with major tourist generating countries, the country has become more accessible. Over the past few years, more airlines from neighbouring India and China have been operating their regular flights to Kathmandu from various cities. We have also increased air links with the Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Besides, Turkish Airlines has directly linked Nepal with Europe.
We are receiving more tourists from long-haul markets like Canada, the United States of America, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, France, Spain, Turkey and Argentina. However, we need to lay much focus on destination promotion and marketing in all the markets.
What are the major challenges and problems facing this sector?
One of the main challenges of the tourism industry is tough competition. What we need to understand is that we have to compete with destinations at regional and global levels. So, we need to upgrade the quality of services we offer to tourists.
Although our tourism business has long history, we still do not have good hotels and resorts in adequate numbers. We also do not have better road facilities. Besides, maintaining cleanliness and sanitation in and around heritage and monument sites is another challenge. We need to take urgent measures to give a facelift to such sites.
The government and other concerned bodies should pay due attention towards upgrading facilities and services at the only international airport—Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA)-- and accord top priority to building the Second International Airport in Nijgadh. It is sad to note that tourists still do not get a good impression at the airport.
Growing unhealthy business practices and unionism are equally challenging. If they are not addressed immediately, they will damage our tourism. The political parties and the government should think of resolving such issues properly.
While talking about problems, the strike culture and violent political activities have hit our tourism sector hard. As such activities have tarnished the country’s destination image, the responsible political forces must look for alternatives to strikes and aggressive processions.
What are your suggestions for the government, travel industry and other agencies?
I think that the government should formulate more tourism-friendly policies and regulations and implement them accordingly. As tourism is a very sensitive sector, the issues related to it should be tackled carefully.
Prompt decisions should also be taken to address problems. The TIA remained closed for four days after a Turkish Airlines plane skidded off the runway about a month ago as the authorities concerned failed to clear the runway immediately. All the international flights had to be suspended and the tourism sector suffered a setback. That not only raised questions about the capability and efficiency of the airport authorities but also caused damage to the country’s image. Learning from the incident, we must get prepared for the future.
The government should also work out plans and develop infrastructures such as roads, airport and electricity in the unexplored areas. We cannot grow tourism in a sustainable manner without developing new products and destinations.
Besides, the government should also facilitate and support the private sector in expanding Nepal’s tourism market access. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), in association with the main tourism-related associations, should help tour operators in taking part in effective international and regional tourism marts and fairs by paying nominal fees. They should also organize country-focussed programmes and road shows in traditional as well as other potential markets. At the same time, we should go for consumer marketing.
You have visited different countries time and again for promoting your business. What has been the perception of international tour operators and prospective tourists towards Nepal as a destination?
They have good perception towards our country as tourist destination as tourists are happy and safe while being here. However, the country’s political image is not good there.
Recently, TripAdvisor, a leading international travel guide, has highlighted Nepal as one of the world’s top 25 destinations for 2015. This indicates that we have a wide range of unrivaled tourist attractions. What is required is to maintain and manage them properly.
I am confident that we have a bright tourism future considering the diversity and quality of products we offer.
Finally, let us change the context. What do you think is the mystery behind your great success?
I have remained fully dedicated to my business. I have come up with innovative ideas to enhance and diversify my businesses. I have spent much money and time at home and abroad for expanding my businesses. I think my hard working nature, creativity, positive attitude and social sense are key to success. Now, I am happy that I have been able to give jobs to more than 50 people.