Five million foreign tourists should be our target

-By Shashi Kant Agrawal

“It will not be trotting out an old cliche to say that Nepal reserves immense potential in tourism. With its splendid nature, rich culture, architectural marvels, historic heritage and warm hospitality, the country can simply attract around 5 million foreign tourists annually,” states Shahi Kant Agrawal, Chairperson, MS Group. “But, so far, the maximum  number of such travellers visiting Nepal per year has been a lot fewer i.e. around 1 million.”

In my opinion,  this can be attributed to various factors like the lack of an integrated marketing strategy (on tourism), poor road infrastructure, and weak aerial connectivity.

i) Integrated Marketing Strategy

Nepal has long been taking part in international fairs and exhibitions to promote its tourism products and services. Nevertheless, an integrated strategy to market them globally continues to be elusive. This is simply dimming the prospects of bringing in more foreign travellers. As such, we need to devise the said kind of strategy without further ado.

It, among others, should be zeroed in on branding unique tourism products/services of the country. Such products encompass iconic heritage sites (listed by UNESCO), majestic mountains, splendid rivers, forests replete with amazing flora and fauna, meditation/yoga centers having proper facilities, etc.  In the course of the branding process, there is a great need to project Nepal as the best destination rather than the cheap one. If this is fulfilled, we can impel high-end visitors belonging to particularly India and China which are already the two biggest tourist source markets of Nepal.

ii) Enhancing Road Networks 

Road networks are sine qua non of the tourism infrastructure. In the Nepali context,  the quality of such networks is strictly poor. This has lenghened the travel time in an excessive and hasslesome way. If any tourist wants to visit Pokhara from Kathmandu, it will take as long as 8 hours to cover the distance of around 200 km. Internationally speaking, the average time to travel the very distance is just 3 hours. Similarly,  a vehicle plying on the roads of Kathmandu needs up to one hour to cover the distance of just 10 km.

I would like to cite an example of Thailand to justify how important are road networks in terms of tourism. Back in 1980, traffic jams arose as a   major problem in this Asian country.  People travelling on its city roads used to be stuck in such jams for a staggering 3/4 hours.   It is because of this anomaly that many foreign tourists also stopped flying to Thailand altogether. The then king of the country was seriously concerned about this, so he decided to construct expressways to link the airports with major city areas. Notably, the very infrastructure helped inject a whole new vigour into the anaemic tourism industry of Thailand.

It is high time Nepal also put a premium on enhancing and expanding road networks. This could well help in catalysing the growth of tourism.

iii) Improving aerial connectivity

Like road networks, aerial connectivity is also a crucial component of tourism. Herein in Nepal, the main organisation responsible for ensuring aerial connectivity is, of course, the National Airlines Corporation. But, unfortunately,  such a responsibility has not been fulfilled by it satisfactorily, thus hampering the tourism sector.

The number of its aircraft conducting international flights with the national flag carrier is abysmally small at 3. Because of this, it has been incapacitated to fly directly to several tourist-generating countries. A sizeable chunk of foreign travellers have to go through the hassle of transit points before landing in Nepal.

Such being the reality, the size of the fleet of the NAC must be increased immediately. It will assist the corporation in conducting direct international flights to Europe and other countries and bring in more foreign tourists to Nepal.

(The article is based on a video interview with Mr Agarwal who is the president of MS Group. It is a leading business conglomerate involved in various sectors including tourism. Specifically speaking, Everest Hospitality, a subsidiary of the Group, is engaged in tourism-related businesses like operating Marriott hotels in the country.)