Deepak Raj Joshi is the CEO of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). He was appointed to the post on December 17 last year through open competition. As Nepal embarks on tourism recovery after the devastating earthquakes and supply obstructions due to Indian blockade, Kishor Basnyat of eTravelPress talked to Joshi to know about his plans. Excerpts:
Please tell us about our tourism industry.
Our tourism is around six decades old. Initially it started with exploration and mountaineering. Later we started wildlife tourism and cultural tourism. It is gradually diversified. But the pace of diversification is not so satisfactory. Tourism holds great prospects but we have been failing to exploit the potential to the fullest.
Our tourism industry is driven by private sector – starting from investment to marketing and promotion. Realizing the fact, the government formed Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) as a model of public private partnership some 17 years ago. It works with private sector for development and promotion of Nepali tourism industry.
You have been appointed as CEO of NTB at a challenging time. How does it feel?
Earthquakes of April and May and supply disturbances after the promulgation of new constitution has seriously affected our tourism industry. The year 2072 BS (2015/16) was a tumultuous year for the industry. The first thing we should do is take tourism to the pre-quake level – number of tourists, tourists length of stay and their spending. For that, we are focusing on our neighboring markets – China and India, which are among the fastest growing tourism markets in the world. We have been focusing on both B2B and consumer-focused promotions in these markets. Also, people there have perceptions that Nepal is unsafe to travel. We have adopted two-pronged approaches to change that perception. First to tell the world that only 12 districts were affected by the earthquake and that all tourism areas are safe and back to business through our missions stationed abroad and through participation in international marts and fairs. Second is to invite celebrities and media from that country for fam trips so that they get to see the real situation in Nepal. I am hopeful that it will help us a lot.
Isn’t it high time we focused on domestic tourism?
We are laying special focus on domestic tourism promotion because it supports tourism industry when international arrivals fall. Tourism entrepreneurs, who, in the past, used to prefer foreign tourists over Nepalis, have started putting domestic tourists in priority. Movement of domestic tourists is increasing in recent years which are very encouraging. Pokhara and Chitwan are the largest recipients of domestic tourists in the country. We can learn a lot from our neighboring countries – China and India – in terms of domestic tourism. Domestic tourism is the largest segment in these countries. Tourism entrepreneurs have been telling us that spending my domestic tourists is higher than foreigners in many places. It is one segment which has not been promoted much. We have put domestic tourism in priority and will devise necessary policies and programs accordingly.
You have also said that Non-Resident Nepalis (NRNs) will be used for tourism promotion. What is being done in this direction?
We have taken fresh approach for using NRNs for tourism promotion. We recently held talks with Bhavan Bhatta, who looks after tourism in NRN, for joint tourism promotion. NRNs have chapters in 70 countries across the world. NRNs have strong network in our major tourist generating markets. We, NTB as well as tourism industry, hope to enter into a partnership with NRNs for effective promotion of Nepali tourism products and services through their networks. Works have already been started in this direction.
It is said aviation is the major bottleneck of our tourism industry. What do you say?
Infrastructure bottleneck is the major problem of our tourism industry. Bhairahawa airport will be upgraded into a regional international airport by 2018. Similarly, international airports in Pokhara and Nijgadh are in planning stage. We will get more tourists once these airports come into operation. We have been trying to make optimum use of available infrastructures to bring more tourists.
How often do you get pressure ‘from above’ to support programs that are not related to your programs and objectives?
NTB is an autonomous organization. So it can work in an independent manner. There is no pressure from any side as such. However, I must say that we need to bring about improvements in socio-economic context and our working environment. We have seen many cases of duplication of expenditure. Similarly, small amount of money is being invested in projects which cannot bring desired results. It is difficult for us to provide financial support to events that are not related to our programs and objectives. When we don’t allocate funds for such purpose, people start criticizing us. Such acts discourage us. We cannot bring positive outcomes if these shortcomings are not addressed.
Do you have any immediate plan to go for consumer marketing?
We do have plan. Huge amount of money is needed to air promotional materials through different mass media. But we are facing budget constraints as our revenue takes a dip when tourist arrival falls. That is why we are holding discussion on the issue with the concerned government agencies. If there is any development, we will definitely go for consumer marketing through leading broadcasters like BBC and CNN.
Any parting remarks?
Tourism cannot prosper in isolation. All stakeholders should realize this fact and do their part responsibly. It will help not only in tourism develop but in the development of entire nation.