Tourism entrepreneurs earn millions of dollars from the sightseers who visit the country to enjoy its attractions, but when it comes to bailing out the industry in times of trouble, they have proven to be quite stingy.
The industry people themselves are disappointed with the lacklustre efforts made by the private sector to reinvigorate the tattered tourism sector following the April 25 earthquake.
The Great Quake and subsequent aftershocks dealt a severe blow to the country’s already weakened tourism industry, and it is likely to cost millions of dollars to bring it back on track, particularly on the promotional and rebranding fronts.
Although, the contribution of tourism entrepreneurs in distributing relief materials in the quake-affected districts cannot be belittled, they have so far failed to take proactive measures to set up a fund or pool of funds, which is a method of collecting a large amount of money to be used in financing projects and other priorities.
For example, there are an estimated 30,000 travel and tourism businesses, including trekking, hotels and restaurants and travel agencies, actively working across the country, and a small financial contribution from each of them could generate a huge amount of money.
“An estimated Rs3-4 billion or more can be generated if these agencies showed a willingness to support financially the industry’s recovery,” said Hari Man Lama, honorary secretary of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) Nepal Chapter and the executive chairman of Incentive Tours & Travels.
“The amount will be enough to fund the construction of basic infrastructure and promotional activities to get the industry back on track.”
However, as has been its habit, the private sector-led tourism industry has yet again knocked on the doors of the government for financial support.
“Obviously, there is a traditional mindset that the government should fund the industry although the industry is capable of doing so itself,” said Prabesh Aryal, executive director of the Hotel Association Nepal (Han), the apex body of the hotel industry. “But everybody in the industry is not like that,” he said, adding that Han had decided to collect funds from its member hotels to be used for global promotional activities. Han has more than 2,000 hotels among its membership.
Tourism is one of the largest employment generating industries in Nepal and a big source of foreign exchange and revenue for the government. The government earned Rs46 billion in revenues from tourism last year, according to the Tourism Ministry.
Lama said that they had formed a Tourism Recovery Committee (TRC) in coordination with the government to prepare a tourism recovery plan and move ahead with the recovery task. It is largely a policy initiative.
“The idea to set up a pool of funds would be more practical because we need a huge amount of financial resources,” he said. “We can do a lot of promotional activities in the global arena if Rs2-3 billion can be raised from the tourism business associations alone.”
Lama said that there were obviously challenges, but it would also be an opportunity to put the tourism industry on the recovery path quickly. The tourism industry could grow rapidly because of its unique natural and cultural heritage. Nepal possesses eight of the 10 highest mountains in the world which makes it a must destination for mountaineers, rock climbers and people seeking adventure.
Pata to help tourism recovery
Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) International Vice-President Andrew Jones has suggested using the expertise of professionals, having more promotional programmes, and engaging celebrities to help Nepal overcome the recent crisis. Addressing an interactive session on Sunday in Kathmandu to explore and exchange ideas on tourism recovery initiatives in the aftermath of the April 25 quake, he said that Pata was also going to recommend to the Nepal government, Pata-Nepal Chapter and Pata Headquarters an action oriented plan. Another Pata expert Bert van Walbeek asked Nepali tourism stakeholders to believe in positive things and urged them not to offer discount packages but give additional services to the guests. Pata International has taken the initiative to help and support the bounce-back campaign of Nepal’s tourism. A tourism recovery plan, with clear guidelines and action plan, is to be prepared by mid-June with help of Pata experts.