Nava Raj Dahal is the newly elected president of Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN) and managing director of Nepal Environmental Treks & Expedition Pvt Ltd. The seasoned trekking entrepreneur recently talked to Arpana Ale Magar of Republica on different aspects of Nepali trekking industry and future plans of TAAN. Excerpts:
You have been recently elected as the president of Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN). What are your plans and strategies for development of trekking industry?
We have set three major priorities -- policy, promotion and infrastructure. Today, entrepreneurs seek business-friendly policy so that they don't have to bribe government officials to get their works done. Promotion is very important as tourism market is very competitive. Effective promotional campaign is a key to increasing tourist footfalls. This year we are receiving good number of tourist. But revenue of entrepreneurs has not increased accordingly. What matters most is tourist spending, not numbers. We have to think about this aspect as well. As tourism is a service industry, we need good infrastructures to provide service of high quality to tourists. Our focus will be on these three categories.
Don't you think there is more supply than demand in Nepali tourism industry?
Though many service providers have come up, we are struggling to achieve our goal of welcoming one million tourists. I must admit that there is unhealthy competition among tourism entrepreneurs. Also, the government has not accorded 'industry' status to the tourism industry yet. We have to register our companies as 'small and cottage industry'. This means that the government is still not taking tourism sector seriously.
US embassy has just issued a travel advisory for its citizens. What is your view on this matter?
I think they issued it in haste. They should have showed a little patience. As a service provider, we are very much concerned about our guest and their safety. Compared to our neighboring countries, Nepal is safer for tourists. Tourists have never been targeted. Election is a democratic process. We successfully concluded local level elections as well as the first phase of provincial and parliamentary elections. I would like to assure all that Nepal is a safe land for tourists.
What is your view on tourism tax levied recently by local bodies?
Our request is to stop collection of such tax as we are transitioning to a federal setup. The Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD) has directed local bodies to stop collection of tax from tourists before entering their respective areas. Unfortunately, I have heard that some local bodies are still collecting such tax. Hopefully, the government will take action against such activity soon. I think the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Municipality took the decision in haste.
Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality has issued a notice, stating that Trekkers Information Management System (TIMS) issued by TAAN is no more valid. What do you say?
TIMS was introduced in the initiation of trekking entrepreneurs themselves. It is not an illegal activity. I think our local bodies are also aware of this fact. The tourism ministry has also said that TIMS cannot be scrapped. We are holding discussion with representatives of the rural municipality to ensure that tourist do not suffer due to our differences.
Do you have any new programs?
We are preparing to introduce and market short trekking destinations in Kathmandu and surrounding areas. Similarly, we also have plans to organize travel and trekking marts in the near future.
Any parting words?
Nepal holds huge potential for tourism development. But the international tourism market is very competitive. We need to promote our tourism products and services effectively in the international market to reap more benefits. Realizing this fact, the government and the private sector should work hand in hand.