Cover Story

The domestic travel dilemma

Published On: July 1, 2016 11:00 AM NPT By: Priyanka Gurung

The set goals were ambitious. The Nepali year 2073 BS was declared as Ghumphir Barsa in a bid to revitalize our country’s flagging tourism industry. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli himself unveiled the campaign under much pomp and show. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) even promised to help the private sectors promote specifically targeted tour packages and usher in the necessary reforms to encourage more Nepalis to travel within the country. The event was highly publicized back around the end of April.

However, two months on and the General Secretary of Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN), Karna Lama confirms that there haven’t even been any meetings among the concerned parties to discuss future plans. Chief Administration Officer of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), Jinesh Sindurakar actually had to recheck if the Ghumphir Barsa was this year. Not only have the officials not been in touch with him on this regard, he feels the promotion of the campaign has been very weak. President of Nepal Association of Tour & Travel Agents (NATTA), Madhu Sudan Acharya, on the other hand, was quick to comment on the matter. Though he was struggling to be positive about it, he highly doubts that the Ghumphir Barsa will be a success.

“Nobody denies the fact that we need campaigns like these. They are necessary for the tourism industry especially since the image crisis that we have had with the earthquake and the blockade. But declaring a Ghumphir Barsa alone isn’t going to bring about any improvements. This campaign seems to be missing a proper plan,” says Archarya.

Indeed when asked about how they plan to execute Ghumphir Barsa, representatives at the NTB fail to give specific details. Sarad Pradhan, Media Consultant at the NTB assures us that there have been talks regarding the budget and that heads of various associations should expect calls in the near future. They may not even be able to name a couple of local tourists spots that they could promote for Ghumphir Barsa right now but they shall come up with a blue print soon enough.

Pradhan though does not want to downplay the scale of work that is in front of them. “Nepal’s tourism history has been based on international travelers. Every now and then, we have noted the importance of encouraging domestic tourists but this is the very first time that the government has officially launched a program. We needed concrete steps like these. Encouraging domestic tourism is a big task. We will have to review several factors and implement various changes to make this happen,” says Pradhan.

Sindurakar from the NMA expresses relief on hearing that the NTB isn’t in denial about the reality of domestic tourism in Nepal. He claims that barely 50 Nepalis went on mountain expeditions last year. In comparison to foreign climbers, this is a really low ratio so he concludes that we have a long way to go to promote travel among Nepalis.
“There is definitely the matter of money, especially when it comes to mountaineering activities. We may charge nominal amount for permissions but there are things like equipments and insurance to consider. But most importantly, many Nepalis don’t have the habit of traveling very far. Their preferred destination is always close by like Pokhara or Chitwan. If we are to improve domestic tourism, we will actually need to change this mindset among our people,” says Sindurakar.

NATTA’s Acharya also agrees. Over the years, he has seen the trend of traveling increase among Nepali families but the culture is far from set. This is why he believes policies and infrastructures should be looked into. According to Archarya, they don’t need much help with the travel packages.

“For instance, under the provision of vehicular law, foreigners alone have been cited as tourists. So in the far west, in the remote areas of Mustang and Jomsom, there have been cases where Nepalis traveling in green plate cars were asked to get off or cases where red and black plate cars haven’t been allowed access to certain areas. We found the local authorities to be rather uncooperative as well. These little inconveniencies can be fatal to domestic tourism,” says Acharya.

Along with straightening out policies that might be discouraging local travel, he also brings up the issue of roads. He calls the fact that even those traveling through Muglin on their way to Chitwan have to suffer through some disturbances a real shame. Easier access to various destinations across Nepal would encourage more visitors. Further, the reluctance of Nepalis to travel was apparently even traced back to lack of holidays. Since Dashain and Tihar are often dedicated to families, most believed these times aren’t the proper occasions to set off on far flung travel adventures.

These are excuses that Lama too often comes across at TAAN. “It’s not that people are unaware about the beauty of our country or they don’t have the wish to see it. It’s just that the circumstances work against those Nepalis who wish to extensively travel within the country. We have to admit that, in the past, we haven’t given domestic tourism the utmost priority. So if anything, Ghumphir Barsa can be a starting point to divert our attention to this issue,” says Lama.

All the concerned associations unanimously agree that various facilities and services can be tailored to meet Nepali travelers’ needs. From encouraging the corporate sector to provide travel leave for their staffs and arranging cheaper fares to more convenient transportation and better security, there are many essential requirements that need to be taken care of if domestic tourism is to flourish. And if the Ghumphir Barsa campaign is to succeed, it will require careful strategizing and effective implementation of those plans and strategies.

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