Tourism Key To Prosperity
Nepal’s tourism promotion is linked with socio-economic development and prosperity. This is one of the most important sectors of the Nepali economy. It is also highly prioritised service industry. Its development can help the government to achieve the goal of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepalis’. However, developing tourism in a successful manner is not an easy task. As a multi-faceted sector, tourism requires continuous efforts as well as concrete plans and programmes for its sustained growth. Besides contributing to the national economy, tourism helps strengthen international relations, too.
Nepal Industrial Enterprises Act, 2016 has specifically divided tourism into nine different sectors. The government has given 100 per cent tax holiday for new tourism-related investment in the initial five years and 50 per cent tax exemption for succeeding three years if the investment exceeds Rs. 2 billion. Similarly, hotels with necessary infrastructure and resorts, established outside the metropolitan and sub-metropolitan cities with the capital investment of more than Rs. 50 million, shall enjoy the same tax exemption facility.
Historically, Manjushree from China was probably the first international tourist to visit Nepal. He is credited for transforming a big pond into a suitable place for human settlement. He cut through a long stretch of rocks at Chovar to release water from the valley. Later, Chinese Xuanzang, Japanese monk Ekai Kawaguchi, and Swiss geographer Tony Hagan had played a leading role in Nepal’s tourism development. They had shared their interesting descriptions about the country. The international contacts and interactions enhanced the nation’s profile as a new tourist destination.
Nepal can run the tourism industry independently for its maximum benefits. However, our national policy, plans and programmes have not been able to capitalise on its huge tourism prospect. Despite the priority given after agriculture and water resources, there are shortcomings in materialising the policy in terms of budget allocation and strategic planning. The following topics can be highlighted in this regard.
Mountaineering: Maurice Herzog has published an intensive account of Nepal’s tourism in his book ‘Annapurna’ which was published in 1950 after the successful climbing on Annapurna I. This book provides a lot of information about Nepal, its mountain peaks and many more regarding mountaineering expedition, trekking, hiking and so on. After the successful ascent of Mt. Everest by Tenzing Norgey Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary, the secret of Nepal’s beauty was disclosed to the world’s connoisseurs of nature. More than 4,976 mountaineers have already climbed the world’s tallest peak during the last three decades. Out of 1,900 mountains worldwide, more than 1,300 peaks are feasible for expedition. Out of 14 mountains above 8,000 metres, eight are in Nepal. Besides, panoramic landscape, enthralling flora and fauna, sacred Hindu and Buddhist shrines and multi-diversity with rich and exotic culture have made the country a wonderful tourist destination.
Conservation areas: Nepal has been ranked among the top 10 destinations in terms of the number of tourists across the world. The United States brings in second largest number of tourists (around 70.5 million) annually in the world. The point of attraction to the visitors is Alston’s National Park set up in 1850. This park was famous for wildlife and natural waterfalls during the 18th century. This place attracts more than 3.7 million tourists every year. Nepal also holds a myriad of nature’s wonders that can be developed into similar parks. The Chitwan National Park along with other 11 important parks has been set up, which attract thousands of visitors and conservationists every year. Unfortunately, the country is yet to tap their potentials with magnificent plans and vision. They have been merely confined into conservationists’ study and domain.
World heritage sites: Art, architecture and sculptures are the wealth of the nation. Just as the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Louvre of Versailles Palace and famous paintings of Mona Lisa have been are tourist attractions in France; Nepal is also rich in its cultural heritage. If France can draw about 80 million tourists every year, Nepal can also attract a lot of tourists based on significant heritage sites, including the national parks, stupas, sacred temples and monasteries, historical palaces and Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Many of these sites have been listed by the UNESCO as the world heritage sites. Fifteen more items of archeological importance have been proposed to be included in the world heritage sites. For this, the country should develop and conserve its historical, cultural and archaeologically important sites enlisted in the world heritages in order to lift up the nation by means of optimum utilisation of tourism resources.
Ramsar areas: Conservation areas, wetlands, lakes and reservoirs are other dimensions of tourism promotion in the country. Tilicho Lake, which is considered to be the world’s highest altitude lake, Rara Lake, known to be the fairy queen of the land, and Shey Phoksundo Lake are yet to be developed and promoted from tourism point of view. Pokhara is a home to several enchanting lakes. The one, Phewa Lake, reflects the image of Mt. Machhapuchhre, enthralling the visitors. The development of Pokhara has been possible not only because of lakes but also because of the Annapurna Conservation Area, its peripheral trekking trails and Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains. Villages that are famous for tourists like Namche, Lukla, Dhampus, Ghandruk, Ghalegaun, Sirubari, Amaltari, Rarabas, and Dalla have been developed because of the national parks, trekking routes, and mountain expedition. Therefore, it is essential to develop and promote 5,358 officially recorded lakes and reservoirs. To assist in this effort, the lakes and reservoirs located in 10 places have already been declared as Ramsar Areas. There is a need of counting, listing, and conserving glacial-fed high-altitude lakes that are at the altitude of more than 3,000 metres in order to attract more tourists.
Lumbini: Lumbini is one of the major tourist destinations where hundreds of thousands of peace loving people from across the globe each year visit. An International Buddhist Circuit starting from this holy place stretches to Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar of India holds great significance. It is indispensable to develop connectivity with Lumbini, Devdaha, Buddha’s maternal village; Tilaurakot, the Shakya Royal Palace, and Ramgram where the relics of Buddha were buried. The government needs to pay heed to attract Buddhists from Japan, Korea, China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka by promoting air connectivity that could enable them to enjoy the sunrise in their own home and cherish sunset in Lumbini. Thus, Lumbini can play a vital in promoting international relations through pilgrimage diplomacy.
Rafting: Nepal has not been yet able to fully utilise the abundant possibility of an adventurous water voyage known as whitewater rafting. The commercial rafting activities are taking place in limited rivers like the Trishuli and the Bhotekoshi. The development of rafting has been critical and obstructed somehow due to hydropower projects, infrastructure development, and natural calamities. But, no concrete efforts have been made to ensure their commercial utilisation and appropriate return. No attention has been paid in search of new possibilities and their promotion. Timely attention is needed for the development of necessary infrastructure and commercial promotion. The government has given permission to use rivers like the Arun, Tamor, Dudhkoshi, Tamakoshi, Bhotekoshi, and Upper and lower Sunkoshi, Balephi, Trishuli, Budhigandaki, Marshyangdi, Seti Khola, Kaligandaki, Bheri, Karnali and Seti for rafting.
However, the Mahakali River has not been permitted for rafting, as it is a border river with India. However, the Indian side has already utilised the river for rafting purpose. The Bhotekoshi, the Karnali and the Lower Sunkoshi have been enlisted as the 5th, 7th, and 10th best rafting destinations in the world. The government should be serious about maximising the use of water resources tourism activities like canoeing, kayaking, rafting, swimming, and fishing.
Nepal has now become a merrymaking destination, thanks to the development of paragliding activities. Sarangkot, near Pokhara city, is the take-off point of paragliding. It has become an attractive destination for Chinese tourists. Sarangkot based Paragliding is considered as the best one from where the insatiable scenes of the Himalayan range, local residence and lakes can thoroughly be imbibed in a single flight. There are 73 service provider companies in this field inspiring other potential destinations and enthusiastic people for commercial start-up of paragliding across the country. Bungee jumping, skydive, zip-flyer and mountain flights are being operated as a service sector product in this area.
To sum up, Nepal’s tourism sector, which contributes 2.4 per cent to GDP, should be developed and promoted in order to increase its contribution by more than 8 per cent to GDP through attracting more foreign tourists. This sector could bring about visible changes to the people’s lives in no time.
(Thapa is a Central Committee member of the Nepal Communist Party)
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