Thursday, October 20, 2005

Trekking in Nepal - Problems and Solutions

Deepak Mahat

- With the escalation of violence in the country, the marketing strategy the entrepreneurs adopted some years ago to promote tourism has now turned outdated and archaic. There is a greater urgency to come up with a new one, if trekking agency along with tourism industry as a whole is to be saved from the verge of collapse.

The insurgency has worked as a major impediment to tourism promotion. Of course the formulation of strategy alone would not negate all the adverse impacts it would have on the sector. Nonetheless, it will help put things in place and give new impetus and confidence to the sector.

Like other tourism enterprises, most of the trekking companies in Nepal lack sharpness in knowledge to market the products available. Small as they are, they also lack the required resources and expertise, while going to the international markets for promoting tourism industry in general and trekking sector in particular is very difficult.

In order to increase the volume of inbound tourists in Nepal, we need to tie up with the other countries that offer similar tourism products as Nepal does. Competing with those countries means requirement of massive publicity campaigns and a huge budget. The budget that is allocated for tourism promotion, unfortunately, is very small and that too is not spent efficiently.

It is, therefore, necessary that the entrepreneurs in public-private initiatives allocate enough budget to publicize our hidden charms in the international markets, and foreign media be especially mobilized for that. That can help us effectively inject information among global audiences, thereby drawing their attention and promoting the sector.

Special focus should be given to the development of tourism supporting physical infrastructure. The condition of physical infrastructure at the trekking sector is still rudimentary and jeopardizing its growth.

We need to add up adequate number of airports, particularly in places where tourists frequently visit. Equipments installed at the existing airports must be upgraded and new technologies should be brought in. Constructions of airports, bridges, health posts, sign posting, communication facilities and the like are profoundly necessary to make Nepal a major trekking hub.

Besides the development of new tourism products like safari, rafting, kayaking, it is also equally essential to expand trails in new trekking destinations. Local people should be taught and trained on how they can demonstrate local culture, hospitality and provide services to tourists for their own long-term benefits.

Likewise, in some of the trekking destinations, permit fee levied at present does not seem reasonable. This needs to be revised to attract more trekkers in the country. For instance, the permit fee imposed for trekking in upper Mustang and Upper Dolpo is US $700 for the period of 10 days, while Tibet trips for 8 days are available at a price of US $500 including one-way flight. Why would tourists choose to go to Mustang instead of making trip to Tibet? Such a fee was reasonable only when Tibet was closed to foreigners and we were in a position to sell the product upper Mustang as mini Tibet. Since the Tibet itself has been opened to foreigners now, it is appropriate that we revise our levy policy.

Having said so, I must attribute here that the flow of tourists depends mainly on the number of airlines connecting Nepal to various international destinations. But, Nepal is lagging behind at this front. The ailing state of Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC), the national flag carrier, is partly responsible for the downturn in tourism sector in Nepal.

There are international airlines operating in the country, brining respite to the industry. However, we cannot completely entrust such responsibility on them. Development of domestic airlines, which connect to various international destinations, is a must for sustainable tourism promotion in the country. It is encouraging that some of the private airlines in Nepal have recently started operating their flights to outbound destinations as well.

Exploration of new trekking destination is quite essential to satisfy the changing tastes of trekkers. The more destinations we offer, the more tourists we can bring in the country. However, it has been difficult to unleash additional destinations due to lack of necessary infrastructures and resources.

In recent years, illegal operation too has been a major challenge to the trekking operators. It is therefore, necessary to strongly implement Trekking Registration Certificate (TRC). This will not only check illegal operation, but more importantly will result in a significant contribution in the revenue in the government's coffer.
Needless to say, the sector needs whole-hearted cooperation and support from the government. But, sadly enough, the government has time and again failed to demonstrate its commitment to this sector. With an objective to boosting the tourism sector, it had introduced a comprehensive German Master Plan in 1972. The plan, which incorporated various issues pertaining to trekking sector, still awaits full implementation. The government should be serious in fulfilling its commitments and should make the timely amendment in tourism related policies to allow the tourism sectors thrive.

(The author is the Immediate Past President (IPP) of Trekking Agents Association of Nepal)
Published on The Kathmandu Post on October 17, 2005

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