Nabaraj Dahal is the newly elected president of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN). The seasoned trekking entrepreneur, who is also the managing director of Nepal Environmental Treks, served as the general secretary of the association some years before. Dahal is also the Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Estonia for Nepal. Kishor Basnyat of eTravelPress recently talked to Dahal on different issues related to Nepali trekking industry and his future plans. Excerpts:
You have been elected as the president of TAAN. How does it feel?
I am thankful to all valued members who elected me to the post. As I served as the general secretary of the association previously, I know this institution up close. The association is facing financial as well as several other problems. I felt that somebody should go there, clean up all the mess and develop TAAN as a professional body of Nepali tourism industry. That is why I should desire to run for the post. TAAN members believed me and elected to the post. Now, I, along with my team, must improve state of affairs at TAAN and tell our members that we successfully worked as per their mandate.
What do you think are the problems that Nepali trekking sector is facing at present?
There are plenty of problems in the trekking sector. The new executive committee will study all the problems; categorize problems that can be addressed in the short-term and long-term. We will take immediate initiatives to address problems that can be addressed immediately. One of them is controlling illegal operation of trekking business. Trekkers and tour leaders as well as NGos are are operating groups here. They are eating into business of duly registered government agencies who are paying taxes to the government. This should end. Similarly, we will lobby with the government to introduce a provision that requires trekkers to take at least a guide or porter with them. It will ensure security of trekkers as well as create employment for Nepali youths and in the long run control unauthorized operation of trekking business.
Trekkers and tour leaders as well as NGos are are operating groups here. They are eating into business of duly registered government agencies who are paying taxes to the government. This should end.
Trekking trails are shortening with the construction of roads. Trekking package are shortening which means less revenue for trekking agencies and government. We will work to identify and promote new trekking trails.
There is also confusion regarding VAT and taxation. We will lobby with tax authorities to make VAT and taxation process easier.
TAAN has not been able to use TIMS revenue due to alleged misuse of fund by previous authorities. What are you doing in this regard?
It is true that TAAN has not been able to use its share from TIMS funds. Government officials say it is due to misuse of the fund by previous executive committees. We will study to see if there were any shortcomings from TAAN side.
As a trekking entrepreneur and the president of TAAN, I am clear in one thing. That is TAAN should be allowed to use the fund as we have planned various works including welfare of trekking support staff from this fund. We will form a committee to study the issue. The committee will hold discussions with government agencies and try to find an amicable solution. Our promotion activities have been affected and we have not been able to settle bills of rescue with helicopter companies.
We will address if there are arny shortcomings in implementation of TIMS. The trekking industry needs TIMS.
What is your observation on imposition of tourism tax by Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality?
Whether or not local bodies can impose new tax is a different thing. All should follow the rules set by central government. I think the local body took the decision in haste. They imposed the fee without holding needful discussion with concerned stakeholders. The rural municipality even asked trekkers not to pay TIMS. How can it do that?
The issue has been put on hold for the time being on the direction of the federal affairs ministry. We will hold talks with the local body, tourism ministry, and federal affairs ministry to find amicable solution to the issue.
You are the Consul General of Estonia in Nepal. How do you think TAAN should promote economic diplomacy?
As someone from the consular corps, I have been playing needful role to promote economic diplomacy in national and international forums that I participate. Now that I have been elected as the president of TAAN, I will hold discussion with other members of the consular corps as well as the diplomatic corp on how can we improve our service quality and bring high end tourists to Nepal. I will encourage them to do their bits for promotion of economic diplomacy. We will also request the concerned government agencies to mobilize diplomatic missions stationed abroad to promote economic diplomacy.
Travel trade associations are heavily politicized. Even candidates are selected by political parties. Is this good?
Political parties have opened their tourism units. And these units become active while selecting leadership of their representative bodies. I won’t comment on what happened in the past. But it will end now. I would like to assure one and all that we will move TAAN forward as a professional body of trekking entrepreneurs. I am already told my friends in the executive committee that we should shed our political affiliations and make sure that our political affiliations will in no way affect the day to day functioning of TAAN. I am also affiliated with a political party. But it is not necessary that I have to follow the instruction of my party in TAAN. Leadership of all travel trade associations should take similar stance.
As the country has adopted federal set up, don’t you think TAAN should also be decentralized?
Definitely. TAAN needs to be decentralized. An association cannot be expected to function in existing set up when the country has adopted federal set up. But before that, we need to diversify trekking and mountaineering activities from Everest, Annapurna and Langtang regions to other parts of the country. Our far east, middle west and far west have immense tourism potentials. But they are not being exploited in the lack of proper attention by the government agencies and to some extent private sector. We already have a chapter in Pokhara. Efforts will be made to open chapters in all seven provinces. We will definitely take needful decisions in this regard.
Any parting remarks?
We are very serious about well-being of trekking and mountaineering workers. Trekking entrepreneurs should create a respectable working environment, giving them better equipment, providing them better salary and benefits. Today, foreigners do business with only individuals or institutions who are doing ethical or responsible business. We will make our members aware of the needs to take proper care of trekking support staff. Trekking support staff also should stop putting undue pressure on employers. TAAN and NTB have agreed to allocate certain share of TIMS fund for welfare for workers. WOrkers should put pressure on the government and the NTB for appropriate use of funds meant for trekking workers.
We will make our members aware of the needs to take proper care of trekking support staff. Trekking support staff also should stop putting undue pressure on employers.
Likewise, we will also request the government to review impractical provisions in implementation of tax and VAT for tourism businesses. We also have plans to organize an international standard adventure travel mart in Nepal. We believe that we can organize such marts effectively.
I have a very good team. We hope to tackle all the problems in trekking sector and work to develop TAAN as a respectable professional body of the trekking sector.