POKHARA, May 21: The government has announced that 2080 BS will mark the beginning of 'Nepal Tourism Decade' and 2025 as 'Special Tourism Year'. Presenting the policies and programs for the upcoming financial year, President Ram Chandra Paudel announced the Nepal Tourism Decade and Special Tourism Year.
Before this, the Visit Nepal Year was celebrated for the first time in 1998. Entrepreneurs say that the year of tourism announced for the first time helped a lot in bringing foreign guests to Nepal. Apart from encouraging foreigners to visit Nepal, the program was also effective in developing the traveling habits of Nepali guests.
After 22 years, the year 2020 was declared as the Visit Nepal Year for a second time. Before that, 2011 was also celebrated as the Tourism Year in Nepal. By celebrating the Visit Nepal Year in 2020, the goal was to attract two million foreign visitors to Nepal that year, but since the beginning of the year, the tourism sector had to suffer a huge loss due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
2019 was the year when almost 1.2 million foreign guests entered Nepal. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic started, the arrival in the year 2020, which had a target of 2 million guests, suddenly dropped to 230,000. Even when the Covid-19 pandemic was seen, the first three months of the year 2020 had not been significantly affected in Nepal. However, from the fourth month, the arrivals had dropped to double digits. Due to prolonged lockdowns and global travel restrictions, 2021 arrivals were limited to around 151,000.
While the government has announced a tourism decade and a tourism year again in its policies and programs, the tourism entrepreneurs do not seem very enthusiastic because they complain that tourism has been given less priority in the policies and programs introduced by the government. Tourism entrepreneur Tikaram Sapkota, who is also a former member of the Nepal Tourism Board, says, "The importance of tourism is limited only to the announcement of the Visit Year.” “Declaring Nepal Tourism Decade and Special Tourism Year in policies and programs is not enough to benefit tourism; priority and implementation should be emphasized in the budget according to the policy to benefit tourism," Sapkota said. “Many things about tourism should have been included in the policies and program, but they did not come into effect,” he added.
He said that even though the government has introduced policies and programs, there is a problem when the budget is not allocated. He said, “Even though tourism is given priority in the policy, it is not given priority in the budget, while the budget of the Ministry of Tourism has been cut. There is no plan on how to do the promotion. There is no plan to revive tourism. Even if the policy is given importance, it is not in the budget, even if it is stated in the budget, it is not implemented. There was a lot of tourism to do. However, the entire plan has been overshadowed,” Sapkota stated.
According to Sapkota, the government should facilitate airlines, expand international flights, increase accessibility, and increase ease in the air network to promote tourism. However, these programs are nowhere to be found. There are no plans to attract domestic tourists either. The government has also not taken any policy to protect the tourism sector into consideration.
Ananda Raj Mulmi, a former president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), also says that there is no special plan for Gandaki Province in the policies and programs. He said that there is no mention of the prosperity of Gandaki Province. “Gandaki Province has been given less priority. Such policies and programs cannot be very effective when the country is economically weak," said Mulmi. "It remains to be seen what kind of programs will come in the budget." It has become a habit to say that the tourism board did not give the budget. "Pokhara should have the courage to aggressively carry out promotional programs," he said.
The government has also mentioned in the policies and programs to promote the tourist destinations worldwide, emphasize on the expansion of new tourist destinations, advance the concept of one province and one cultural village, open up new mountains for climbing, promote new types of adventure tourism, and promote foreign nationals who have made outstanding contributions to promote tourism with the private sector. It is also included in the policies to award 'Sagarmata special honor' to foreign nationals who have made excellent contributions to promote tourism in collaboration with the private sector.
Bharat Parajuli, a central member of the Hotel Association Nepal, says that there should be provisions in the budget for the programs announced in the policies and programs. "There is an announcement in the policies and programs, but the budget is not allocated. If the budget is also allocated and implemented, there will be no problem, otherwise the announcement will not make sense," Parajuli said. "Looking at the practice of the previous years, the announcement is made, but the budget is not implemented, so it cannot be trusted." He said that the current policies and programs should not be limited to comforting the tourism entrepreneurs. He said that it remains to be seen what form the policies and programs will take in the budget amid the current economic recession.