Let us do what we can to ensure that our guests have a pleasant stay in 2020 and every year following that
The government of Nepal has declared 2020 as the Visit Nepal Year (VNY). The government hopes that two million tourists will come to the country and each will spend above $75 a day. Undoubtedly, our economy needs a boost and what better than backing the tourism industry to catapult our growth story to the next level? Meanwhile, there has been criticism on the role of the government, especially, the pace with which things should have moved forward. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that it is “Visit Nepal Year” and not “Visit Nepal Government Year”. Therefore, we the people of Nepal have a solemn duty to contribute to making VNY successful.
The adverts of the VNY will highlight the picturesque view of the mountains, art, architecture, festivities, the adventure and thrill of the undulating geography, the indivisible spirituality, diversity in nature and the people. All these things do not speak for themselves. More than the sights and sounds of Nepal people from all around the world will be visiting us, you and I. Therefore, it is logical to state that it is, in fact, the “Visit Nepali Year 2020”.
I must admit that I have butterflies in my stomach every time I wait for my baggage to appear through the small inlet that feeds luggage into the conveyor belt of the Tribhuvan International Airport. My fears are borne out of suspicion that I might receive my luggage with a broken lock and stuffs missing from inside which until a few years ago was regularly reported in the media. Fortunately, such news has not been reported of late. However, the volume of traffic at the international airport has increased exponentially and wait for the luggage by the side of the conveyor belt can be frustrating to a foreigner. Further, it can get a bit irritating to see people standing right by the side of the conveyor belt, often to the dismay of the foreigner who has no clue why people are blocking his/her view.
So far, I have been ignorant to think about the ramifications of this experience to a tourist. I am guilty of taking pride in finding the front-row view of the conveyor belt potentially playing the villain to a tourist who may be anxiously sticking his neck out from among the horde of people. I have been oblivious, to say the least, and hope that this self-criticism will inspire few to keep an eye on any foreigner who might be visibly impatient and running around trying to locate the luggage. Although that may mean spending an extra 15 minutes from the schedule, that 15 minutes may just prevent a first-time traveller to Nepal from venting his anger in the popular travel sites.
I come across tourists navigating their way through the narrow alleys of Kathmandu, while I take a brisk walk through the city centre early in the morning. This is certainly the best time to witness some of the busiest and historical parts of the city on foot. While this is happening shopkeepers adjacent to the road are meticulously cleaning their shop floor, often dumping their waste in the road, before they open for customers. This cleanliness campaign adds a trail of plastic waste in the middle of the road, which looks as if the shopkeepers are presenting a plastic carpet welcome to the travellers inquisitive to learn about the way of life in urban Kathmandu. Gone are the days when postcards were the windows to the place people visit. We live in a transparent world of smartphones and one compassionate review from a tourist who fell after stepping on the plastic carpet can be a big discouragement. The government does not go around with a bin in the hand, does it? It is us who have to conduct ourselves responsibly.
Back in 2017, before my trip to Bangkok, I was able to access the information on the actual price of a tuk-tuk to travel between locations on the outskirts of the city from a travel site. Thanks to the power of reviews, I was able to plan an entire trip within a country I have never been before, from the comfort of my working desk. While the reviews have crippled the life of scammers for good, it has shifted the power to the traveller. Therefore, we will make a fool out of ourselves if we decide to charge extra to the visitors. We say that guests are like god. Do we expect the government to start policing our ethics?
Every morning just before I leave for work, I get to watch kids head to the school in the neighbourhood. I find that some of the younger students who are accompanied by their parents enter the local grocery store to get some chocolates. The chocolate wrappers get opened while the parent is making the payment. Unfortunately, the wrappers fail to land in a bin and instead it finds the road. Similarly, those students who get to school on their own exercise their liberty to throw trash on the road after the school is over upon entering the same grocery store and purchasing some junk food. I feel sorry for the students that their school has failed in their attempt to instil some civic sense. Likewise, I feel sorry for the parents who fail to train their kids to become responsible citizens.
Further, the grocery store is also favourite stopover of motorbike riders heading for work. They purchase chewable tobacco, pay the cash and then throw the wrapper on the same road. The two million visitors that the country expects to welcome may have immediate concern regarding the cleanliness of our public spaces. These are just a few examples of the sources of trash on our roads. I think the graciousness with which we have damaged the aesthetics of our public spaces will haunt us in form of two million questions on why we are unable to manage the litter individually.
Ease the movement
One of the popular intersections linking Thamel and Durbar Marg can be a nightmare for a foreigner to cross. It is probably one of the busiest intersections and its location right at the entrance of the tourist hub does little to welcome them. Leaving aside those countrymen who cross the intersection on foot to get into and out of the department of passport, there are a bunch of tourists trying to crack the way to cross it. I have been stuck in this intersection quite a few times and witness the unease with which foreign nationals navigate their way through this busy crossing whose zebra signs may not be visible.
The intersection is not operated via traffic signals and to discover the primitiveness of its management can be amusing. Meanwhile, as they make a run through the crossing, I can see vehicles approaching the pedestrians in great speeds. I guess in a fraction of a second it reminds the visitors to thank that they have insurance. But the way they nod their head in disbelief after they make their way through this adventurous crossing is something we can avoid as citizens. We are certainly not able to decide when the traffic lights will be operational. But we, as citizens, can help them cross the road. Probably I have tried to outrun the vehicle in front of me in that crossing a lot of times and take some of the credit of this disgraceful experience that our visitors might have had to face. The government does not have control over our intention to speed up at such crossings, does it?
Democracy is a social contract where the people thoughtfully bestow their right to govern to a government hoping that it would do its best to serve the interest. The people in the government reflect the characteristics of the people who voted for them. Therefore, it is quite natural for the government of the day to be criticized for the lacklustre performance when it comes to preparations for the VNY. Let us accept that as citizens we are under-prepared to welcome our guests because we have failed to instil some civic sense, which comes under the realm of individual’s conduct. The time for self-reflection is already over but we can still become more responsible citizens. So, let us do what we can to ensure that our guests have a pleasant stay in 2020 and every year following that.