VNY 2020: Opportunities and challenges

LB Thapa

 

With the onset of 2020, Nepal is going to launch an ambitious tourism campaign ‘Visit Nepal Year 2020’ with a theme of “Lifetime Experiences”. The government plans to welcome 2 million international tourists by the end of 2020. This seems to be a daunting task but still the target can be achieved because over the last three years, Nepal’s tourism industry has been making steady progress.
Nepali tourism was at its lowest ebb after devastative earthquake of 2015. It took the lives of many people and destroyed the property beyond imagination. This was a time when many foreign tourists left the country and several others cancelled their bookings. It caused a severe financial blow to the national economy.
However, due to the willpower of the Nepalis, the nation’s tourism has bounced back with renewed vigour and vitality. In 2018, the number of international tourists visiting Nepal increased by 24 per cent as compared to the previous year. The country hosted more than one million foreign tourists last year.
Many efforts were made in the past to receive one million international tourists; but it always remained as elusive as ever. However, now things have been changing and Nepali tourism has shown obvious signs of growth and development. Achieving the mark of one million tourists has emboldened the self-confidence of the Nepal
Tourism Board (NTB) and tourism entrepreneurs. This is a Herculean task but there is nothing impossible before the highly spirited tourism entrepreneurs of the country.
There is one more reason why the NTB seems to be more confident to achieve this target. According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), the number of international tourist arrivals had increased to 1.6 billion in 2018. This was 6 per cent increase and WTO has estimated that international tourism will grow between 3-4 per cent until 2020.
The way international tourism is making its headway, it is obvious that Nepal can pull a large number of tourists as the country has much more to offer to them. An improved tourism means a better economy of the country. The tourism sector alone can play a vital role in boosting the national economy. Keeping this in mind, the Government of Nepal wants to leave no stone unturned to achieve the target of 2 million tourists.11

Tourism campaigns
The history of Visit Nepal Year began with the sheer intention of attracting more international tourists to Nepal. The then government had launched the first ever Visit Nepal Year in 1998.
The government’s decision of launching first ever Visit Nepal 1998 was welcomed by tourism entrepreneurs and others. They had also joined hands with the government to make the Visit Nepal Year 1998 a success.
The national tourism campaign was launched with the slogan ‘A World of its Own’. The campaign was successful in the sense that almost 500,000 foreign tourists travelled to the country in 1998. This figure was quite impressive than the previous years.
The next tourism campaign was organised quite late. It was held only in 2011. The government had already learned a few lessons from the initial success of Visit Nepal 1998. That time the government was much prepared to launch Nepal Tourism Year 2011. For the first time, the government had set a target of receiving 1 million tourists.
Round the year, the campaign was vigorously launched. As a result, by the end of 2011, around 800,000 tourists visited Nepal. Though the target could not be met, the campaign had given enough confidence to Nepali tourism.
Over the last three years, Nepali tourism is taking galloping strides. In the Fiscal Year 2018 the revenue growth rate of hotels and restaurants had a 9.8 per cent increase. At a time when Nepali tourism is doing better, an idea of launching the VNY is a timely decision.
For the preparation of the VNY, about 4,000 new star-level hotel rooms will be added in Kathmandu, Chitwan and Pokhara. About 30 new hotels will come into operation. In addition, at least five international chains like Sheraton, Double Tree, Hilton and Marriott are launching their services for 2020.
It is good to know that the NTB has planned to organise tourism marketing road shows in several cities in the UK. These efforts will create awareness among the British people about our upcoming national tourism event. The number of British tourist arrivals rose by 25 per cent to about 63,000 in 2018.
Some tourism entrepreneurs, including Karna Sakya, thought that earthquake in 2015 might have created fear among the international visitors. However, now more visitors want to visit Nepal because some want to help the nation by visiting and many others want to see monuments under construction.
“Let’s not take earthquake entirely in a negative way, because the number of international tourists has soared up dramatically after the earthquake. This shows that the earthquake has been proved blessing in disguise”, said Sakya in a recent TV interview in Kathmandu.

Challenges
To attain the target of 2 million international tourists in 2020 is easier said than done. There are numerous hurdles on the way. The road is bumpy, rough and challenging. Lack of budget, resources and security and rampant corruption are some key issues to which the government must pay due attention.
Nepal still does not have good air connectivity with major tourist source markets. Currently, 28 international airlines from 14 countries are operating their flights to and from Nepal. However, due to limited space available inside the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), its further expansion is not possible. Thus, an additional slot is not possible in the near future.
TIA is unable to accommodate more planes and provide additional facilities due to unavailability of more space. Besides, the airport has only earned bad names for its poor services. Even domestic aviation service is not up to the mark.
It was believed that Gautam Buddha Regional International Airport would start its commercial services from Bhairahawa before 2020. The construction work is going on at a snail’s pace.
The story of Pokhara Regional International Airport is no better either. After assessing the present situation, it seems that it may take much longer period to complete the construction of the airport.
These two airports can play a key role to attract more international tourists. Lumbini, being the birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha, can attract many religious tourists.
In the meantime, Pokhara is the gateway to the Annapurna region, a popular trekking destination. A direct flight to Pokhara can encourage more tourists to visit this beautiful city for trekking and other purposes.

Competitive business
The world’s leading tourism experts have concluded that international tourism will grow continuously for a few more years. Hence, Nepal’s decision to launch Visit Nepal 2020 has more chances to meet its target of inviting 2 million international tourists.
However, setting a goal does not mean a target is achieved. We must not forget that a happy customer is the best advertiser and vice versa. What tourists don’t like about Nepal is frequently organised bandhs. All the political parties should announce that there will be no activities like Nepal bandh during the whole 2020. Moreover, safety and security of international tourists is a prime concern.
Unfortunately, Nepal does not have a professional team, which can act promptly to conduct various rescue operations for saving the lives of tourists in danger.
More groundwork is required before 2020. What we must keep in mind is that the tourism industry has become much more competitive now than it was before. A small mistake can change the mood of the visitors.
The word “Atithi devo bhawa” should be followed in real life rather than keeping it limited in words alone. 

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