Recognise tourism as national industry

Tourism in Nepal has been a vital sector to contribute for the national economy. A labour-intensive sector, tourism creates jobs and directly or indirectly supports many other sectors like agriculture, handicraft, livestock farming, poultry farming, and furnishing and furniture.
As the tourism industry has more comparative advantages over other areas of the national economy, we must develop it into a national industry. If managed properly, this sector could help the government achieve its goal of economic prosperity. Tourism could be a backbone of the national economy if the government and the private sector make concerted efforts. It is needless to say that the country holds tremendous tourism prospects with a wide range of tourist attractions from the pristine scenic beauty to the cultural diversity. We, however, have not been able to capitalise on them effectively because of lack of necessary planning and dedicated efforts.

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Unlike manufacturing industry, tourism is very sensitive sector that can suffer a great setback when a destination reports minor negative incidents like strike or extortion. Our tourism had faced a serious problem during the decade-long Maoist insurgency. This sector could not flourish for some years as expected even after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in 2006 due to the continuation of political instability.
However, the situation has now changed for the better. We have political stability with stable government. It is encouraging to note that the tourism industry has continued to grow since 2016. The devastating 2015 earthquake had hit the multifaceted tourism industry.
The number of tourists coming to Nepal has been on the rise over the years. Last year alone, we welcomed more than 1.17 million tourists from across the world. The nation is expected to see a significant rise in the number of tourists this year as well. The process of constructing infrastructures like roads and airports seems to be moving ahead. Two more airports—Gautam Buddha Regional International Airport and Pokhara Regional International Airport—will come into operation in the near future. They will definitely help reduce the air traffic congestion at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) and diversity tourism. Lumbini and Pokhara are going to have air connectivity with various cities of the neighbouring countries. This means we will be receiving more tourists in the days ahead.
It is also worth mentioning that the country has witnessed a rapid growth in investment in the hospitality industry. Many new hotels, including reputed international hotel chains, have been opened in different tourist destinations within the country. Some more such hotels are coming up. This is definitely a good indication. These hotels are also going to promote Nepal as a preferred destination in the major tourist source markets. The government needs to offer more incentives to tourism enterprises in order to motivate them to invest.
With the Visit Nepal Year 2020 approaching, tourism stakeholders are now optimistic that the upcoming national tourism campaign will be helpful for giving a boost to our tourism. But we do not have adequate time to make preparations for the round-the-year campaign. The government has come up with an ambitious plan to bring in 2 million foreign tourists by 2020 and beyond. This is a good number. But we must focus on quality tourism that alone can sustain the industry. This, however, does not mean that we do not require budget tourists. Since we have home-stay facilities and other budget hotels and lodges, we need budget tourists.
Keeping in view the mega campaign, the government should lay much focus on building up necessary infrastructures. Efforts should also be geared towards lengthening the stay of tourists. The government should also intensify tourism promotion and marketing efforts in major tourist source markets. Besides, the government must mobilise all its agencies, including the diplomatic missions abroad, for promoting the country in view of the impending national tourism campaign.
As our tourism has been a seasonal business, we have failed to reap the much-needed benefit from it. So, we must come up with concrete plans and policies to attract tourists throughout the year. Looking at our product diversities, the country can be a round-the-year tourist destination.
It is sad to note that Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) has failed to utilise its wide-body jets even on the eve of the VNY 2020. It might be difficult for us to make the event a success if the national flag carrier remains weak. So, the government must initiate immediate measures to maximise the utilisation of its planes in order to bring in more tourists.

Chitwan: A hotspot for wildlife tourism
Chitwan is famous for wildlife tourism, which is a prime tourist attraction in Nepal. The Chitwan National Park is (CNP) is home to numerous wildlife species, including rare Royal Bengal Tiger and One-horned Rhino.
Tourists from across the world visit Chitwan to experience the jungle safari. They can experience an elephant back safari inside the park. Watching a variety of birds is another attraction there. Established in 1973, CNP, which is the first national park in the country, is regarded as the best habitat for birds. An estimated 550 different species of birds, including migrant ones, are found in the park. Thus, the park is a bird lover’s paradise.
Chitwan is also popular among tourists because of the traditional Tharu culture and lifestyle. The traditional stick dance performed by Tharus is quite popular among tourists. The lifestyle of the Bote and the Majhi communities is equally fascinating for visitors.
Chitwan has been a hotspot for wildlife tourism since 1964 when Tiger Tops pioneered this form of tourism. Many tourists used to visit Chitwan to have authentic wildlife experiences. But wildlife tourism has now been reeling under a problem due to policy instability. When the then government decided to close down Tiger Tops and some other hotels and lodges operating inside the park, the inflow of high-end tourists into Chitwan has declined. Actually, it was not a prudent decision looking at it from tourism and conservation point of view.
We have urged the government to review the decision. The government has lost a considerable amount of royalty. As the nation is organising the VNY 2020, the government should declare reopen CNP for wildlife safari. This will spread a positive message among travellers worldwide.

(Shrestha, a former president of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), is the chairman of Safari Narayani Hotel based in Ghatgain of Chitwan. This article is based on conversations with BallavDahal of The Rising Nepal.) 

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