Santabir Lama is the president of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) — the alpine club of Nepal. He was the first vice president in the previous executive committee of NMA. Lama has wide experience in Nepali mountaineering and adventure sector. Kishor Basnyat of eTravelPress.com recently talked to Nepal on varied issues related to Nepali mountaineering and adventure tourism sector. Excerpts:
How does it feel to be the president of NMA?
It feels good. NMA is the alpine association of the country. It is working conservation of our Himalayan peaks, promote adventure activities there, and look after well-being of people involved in adventure activities. It has national and international connections. Also, it advises the government on issues related to adventure tourism sector. So, it’s a privilege and honor to lead this organization.
Do you think the people that voted for you in the election held last year were convinced by your commitments in the election manifesto?
We had made commitment to give continuity to existing programs and and start new programs for development of adventure tourism industry. Similarly, we said that the reign of a single individual or a group should end. It seems that our members liked the policies that we include in our manifesto. Now, we have a challenge of meeting their aspirations. I want to assure you that we will spare no effort to live up to their expectations.
Local governments have started levying entry fees on foreign tourists. What should associations like NMA and Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) should to resolve the matter?
NMA has been authorized by the government to collect climbing permit fees of some mountain peaks. The association uses the fund to provide mountaineering training, support family of deceased climbers, build infrastructure, and for environment preservation, among others. Permit fee is the only source of revenue for us. If we are not permitted to collect permit fee, we will have to discontinue our programs. Everyone knows about the programs and activities of NMA. I don’t think they will want to affect our plans and programs. I think the government will take needful initiatives to address the issue because imposition of such fees by local bodies will make our tourism programs expensive.
NMA has already adopted federal set up by opening chapter offices. How much autonomy are the chapters enjoying?
We were ahead of the government when it comes to adopting federal set up. We already have nine chapters — Annapurna, Api, Ganesh Himal, Jugal, Kanchanjunga, Makalu, Sagarmatha and Saipal. We are gradually giving autonomy to these chapters. These chapters have been assigned the responsibility of exploring new routes and and promoting them. The central secretariat will provide them funds for exploratory works. Their efforts should be on bringing more tourists to their respective areas.
What is your comment on the rising unhealthy competition among trekking and expedition operators?
Increasing competition among trekking and mountaineering operators is not only making our tourism products and services cheaper but also degrading the quality of our products and services. You cannot bring cost without compromising on quality of your service. This will make long-term impact on our tourism industry. I think tourism entrepreneurs should themselves be aware of the negative impacts of price undercutting. Our focus should be on bringing high-spending tourists. Numbers do not matter, what matters most is tourism revenue. We should learn from our neighboring countries and focus on quality tourists. If we, the tourism entrepreneurs, cannot do that, then the government must step in.
The government should ban solo trekking and ask trekkers to hire at least a guide or a porter. Tourists should not take it as additional financial burden; it is for their safety.
What will be your priorities in NMA?
Promotion of mountain tourism will be at the top of our priority. We will request the government to open restricted areas to get more tourists. SImilarly, we have number of unclimbed peaks. We will request the government to open them for climbing. Our member companies are eager to operate expeditions there. We will also promote these peaks and areas through international forums like UAAA and UIAA. This will benefit people living in those areas.
Second is, we have plans to make Nepal a training center for aspiring climbers from all over the world. We have sufficient instructors to provide world-class mountaineering trainings. As a mountainous country, Nepal has all that it takes to develop it as a training center for mountaineers and mountaineering workers.
Our focus will also be on building relationships at the international level. It will help us to market our tourism products and services in the international market. Permit fee of Nepali mountains is very high compared to other countries. Because of high permit fee, we are losing out to neighboring markets like India and Tibet. Such being the backdrop, we will request the government to review permit fee so as to make Nepal competitive with neighboring tourism destinations.