The government has decided to mark the period from 2023 to 2033 as the Visit Nepal Decade (VND). While the short-term goal of the VND is to revive the country’s tourism sector which was battered by the Covid-19 pandemic for two consecutive years, the long-term goal is to take the Nepali tourism to newer heights, including establishing Nepal as a leading destination in the global tourism market. In fact, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has already prepared a Strategic Action Plan to make the VND 2023-33 successful. Last Thursday, the tourism minister received a draft of the action plan prepared by a five-member group of tourism experts. The action plan has ambitious goals like increasing the tourist arrival to 3.5 million and creating 1 million additional jobs in the country’s tourism industry, besides taking the tourism industry to the stage of pre-coronavirus infection within two years. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the tourist arrival in Nepal was around 1.2 million in 2018 and 2019. Similarly, 23,085 foreign tourists arrived in Nepal in 2021 while well over half a million international tourists have visited the country in the first 11 months of 2022. Likewise, the government aims to increase per tourist per day spending from the present 48 US dollars to 125 US dollars. In the past, Nepal has observed visit Nepal years but this is the first time that a visit Nepal decade has been announced with the goal of long-term tourism development and promotion.
It is satisfying to note that the action plan has prioritized Nepal's geographic, natural, environmental, social, cultural and religious diversity and declared special tourist sites. However, cooperation, coordination and partnership between the public and the private sectors will be crucial for the promotion and development of the tourism sector. Similarly, the Nepalis living abroad, including the NRNs - especially those residing in Nepal’s major tourism markets - can play an important role in reviving Nepal’s tourism. The government seems to have realized this and that should be why it has come up with the 'Send one Nepali, one foreign friend to Nepal Campaign' to be led by the NRNs. Similarly, the ministry has prepared to open the climbing of more mountain peaks. In order to initiate and promote night tourism within the Kathmandu Valley, it has been said that there are plans to conduct night heritage tours in Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur and Kirtipur within the next two years. Under the concept of ‘Clean Nepal, Green Nepal’, it has announced that a ‘National Cleanliness and Painting Campaign’ will be conducted in important tourist spots in cooperation with the provincial and local governments, civil society and private sector within a month.
The development of tourism infrastructures is going to be the key if we are to meet the ambitious targets set for the country’s tourism sector. In fact, tourism development is not possible without the development of infrastructures. In this context, one of the best things that have perhaps happened to Nepal’s tourism sector in recent times is that the country’s aviation sector is slowly getting stronger. While the Gautam Buddha International Airport has already come into operation since May 16 this year, the Pokhara Regional International Airport will come into operation from January 1, next year. These airports are sure to play important roles in bringing in international tourists to the country, especially from the South Asian and South East Asian regions, while the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu will keep providing its services to bring in foreign tourists from the rest of the world. Apart from that, the government must encourage private investment, especially foreign direct investment, in the tourism sector. However, we must be clear that international tourists are attracted to Nepal by its arts, culture, and natural beauty and especially by adventure tourism. We must show them what they want to see and let them do what they want to do while in Nepal as long as that doesn’t break the country’s laws. This would be the key to the success of VND 2023-33.