Tourism is Nepal’s golden goose. The country has been named as one of the best countries for adventure destination (National Geographic) and one of the 50 places to see before you die (BBC Holiday). The sector accounts for nearly seven pc of Nepal’s GDP.
But despite best intentions, the country’s plan to welcome one million tourists in 2011 fell short by nearly 280,000. Though there was a significant 21 pc increase in tourist arrivals by air, the number, 545,000, was not even close to the projected figure.
Even if one adds the 175,000 tourists who reached by land routes, the million tourist mark is nowhere close.
Though the target was not achieved, 2011 was by far the best year for Nepal tourism which is still recovering from after-effects of the 1996-2006 civil war.
Significantly, Nepal’s two large neighbours accounted for most tourists. Over 145,000 Indians reached the country by air (27 pc of total) and 45,400 Chinese tourists landed in Kathmandu — an increase of over eight percent from 2010.
Some news reports are now terming the one million target wishful thinking, but it could have been achieved if there was some pre-planning and commitment shown by political players.
An ineffective and delayed publicity campaign not focusing on the core markets was one reason Nepal Tourism Year 2011 failed to evoke much interest among tourists. Lack of promotional packages or things like shopping festivals to lure tourists also played a part.
Despite a pledge by most political parties to refrain from strikes during the year, 2011 witnessed more than 50 days of general strikes — another reason that affected tourist arrivals.
The hospitality sector was hit by labour strikes that affected several big hotels. Closure of two prominent casinos due to non-payment of government dues had a negative effect in attracting Indian tourists who are the biggest patrons of these gambling outlets.
Attracting tourists is one thing, but ensuring they get best facilities and depart with contended smiles is another.For that authorities will need to improve the poor amenities at Tribhuwan Internation Airport — the place where most tourists have their first impressions.
The list is long. Those in the business know what needs to be done and will hopefully nurture the goose and not kill it for the eggs.