Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tourism always thrives in peace and tranquility’

Chief Executive Officer of Nepal Tourism Board, Tek Bahadur Dangi, spoke to Nepalnews on challenges facing the tourism sector of the country. A former official with the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Dangi, 46, had joined the NTB in 1999 as Director of Marketing. Excerpts of the interview:

How is the tourism scenario over the last three months since the imposition of the state of emergency (on Feb. 1)?

The state of emergency has been misinterpreted in the potential tourism markets of Nepal. They have perceived it differently. Many journalists and tourists who visited in March and April this year told us that they didn't find the trace of emergency in Nepal because there is no restriction in the movement of people for any sort of tourism activities. Their presence has reinforced the sense of security and the personal sentiment of all the travelers. Though it might look awkward at the first stance, but once they visit all the desired places, then they would come to acknowledge the relevance of their presence.

Last year, Nepal witnessed 13 percent increase in the tourist arrival despite frequent bandhs and blockades. However, situation has changed this year. For the last two months, tourist arrivals have declined. We cannot single out one reason for the decline. Stringent travel advisories and portrayal of Nepal's negative image in some of the international media are some of the reasons for the decline in tourist arrivals. We still do have the problem of air-seat in many potential sectors, which has hindered the tourist arrivals in the country. The Nepalese tourism industry is fighting back the adversity with the help of media, tour operators and friends of Nepal living abroad. Dozens of familiarization trips including media and tour operators from major tourism generating countries have been materialized and such efforts will continue in the future.

You blamed `negative coverage’ in international media for the drop in tourists visiting Nepal. So, what are you doing to address it?
British journalists, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and Hotel Association of Nepal...

This is the age of sensation. And, media is becoming the catalyst of creating sensations. All these sensations are far above the ground reality more than the existing tourist friendly actual situations. More than focusing on other regular promotion programs, NTB is accelerating the number of journalists’ and major tour operators Familiarization (Fam) Tours from international market to change the perception of visitors based on ground reality. Fam trips are also proving to be cost effective way of destination promotion. Till date, NTB has already hosted Fam tours to more than 300 international journalists of highest repute. In April alone, we have organised FAM trips for 35 journalists from India, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and United Kingdom. Recently, we also held press conferences in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Bangladesh and Germany. Likewise, we are also working with various tourism and other associations (HAN, NATTA, PATA, NATO etc) and airlines to launch lucrative packages to bring in more tourists into the country. We are also planning country-specific promotion programmes through Royal Nepalese embassies abroad.

But critics say NTB lacks country-specific promotional strategy to promote Nepal as a preferred 'tourist destination.'

So far NTB has left no stone unturned to promote Nepal, following the international manuals and guidelines as practiced by successful countries like Singapore and Thailand, among others. We have identified primary, secondary and potential markets for promotion and marketing of Nepalese tourism with special focus on regional tourism with the help of private sector. There is a sub-committee comprising all the major players of the industry for every country focused by NTB. It is the sub-committee, which selects the country for promotion and consequently decides about marketing strategy. NTB has been actively involved, mainly after consulting all the private industry players of the local market, in promoting Nepalese tourism in overseas markets. The fact is that NTB cannot make its presence everywhere with its limited resources. Despite our efforts carried on with limited resources, Nepal has been voted as preferred destination by many online surveys and magazines. But we still need to do hard marketing to bring in more tourists in Nepal.

How would you justify latest taxes imposed on diplomats during their travel outside the country?

First of all, the aforesaid Fee is not a new provision but the replacement of earlier one which has come into existence revoking previous system of collecting 2% Tourism Service Fee from tourists/foreign nationals in different services which included hotel, restaurant, rafting, trekking, tour, cable car etc. On January 14, 2005, His Majesty's Government issued the Financial Ordinance 2061/62 B. S. making a new provision for Nepal Tourism Board to collect Tourism Service Fee of NRs. 565 (including VAT) from Tribhuvan International Airport from foreign nationals/ tourists traveling by air only at the time of their departure. This new provision has simplified the collection of Tourism Service Fee because the earlier provision had made foreign nationals pay TSF in all tourism related services mentioned above which perplexed them a lot at the time of paying bills. Like the new one, it was also mandatory in the past for all foreigners including diplomats and foreign residents to pay 2% TSF at hotels, restaurants, tours etc, and there was no provision of exemption in the TSF earlier too.

What should be done to bring in say 500,000 tourists per year to Nepal? How do you see NTB's role in it?

The most important thing is peace. Tourism always thrives in peace and tranquility. If there is peace, the target set by you is obviously not a distant dream. We have infrastructure and carrying capacity to cater over one million tourists a year. Since we had brought in nearly 500,000 tourists in 1999, I don't see any problem to meet this target if peace prevails in the country. Moreover, we have all our marketing planning, tools and armament set to achieve this target. As a nodal agency for promoting Nepal's tourism, NTB has ambitious plans to cross the figure set by you and we are determined to prove that with NTB's existing expertise, provided peace is restored in the country. Since development of tourism partly depends on national carrier, a strong national carrier is also needed to boost the image of Nepalese tourism industry. pd/dr Apr 26 05

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