To support the continued efforts by the Nepal tourism industry to bring in-bound tourism back in business, SAMARTH Nepal Market Development Program (NMDP) organized an interaction program titled the “Turning Point in Tourism” at the hotel Annapurna in Kathmandu. The event was successful in bringing together international tour operators and Nepal tourism operators to discuss how to turn tourism recovery into a reality.
Mr. Wouter Schalken, Tourism Component Manager of SAMARTH, opened the meeting welcoming 7 leading tour operators from Europe, the US, Australia, and Asia.
Almost all of them had a valid concern over the negative travel advisories against Nepal, directly affecting travel, travel insurance, and killing the business. Needless to say, it has posed a great hurdle for the country's tourism recovery efforts.
Opening the presentation, Jo Chaffer of KE Adventure, from the UK, said that Nepal had been in its top 10 selling destinations for many years. But since 2014, the bookings for Nepal has significantly dropped. Now it has been a daunting task to get the numbers for Nepal after the earthquake. However, she is still hopeful to get some numbers as KE managed to cover the insurance for its trekking trips to Nepal. She asked the industry to raise the bar of services so travelers will still find Nepal as a destination to have an inspiring holiday.
Mick Chapman of Himalaya Guides UK/Australia, which brought over 2,000 tourists to Nepal yearly, expressed his concern over the preparedness of the destination. He opined that it needed to boost professionalism and quality to regain the confidence of the market.
Kuniaki Takahashi spoke on behalf of Himalayan Kanko Japan which has been promoting Nepal since 1969. He mentioned that Japan has not issued any negative travel advisory against Nepal. However, there is clearly some confusion about the safe or unsafe places in Nepal. This has resulted in lack of confidence to travel to the places which were actually not much affected by the earthquake. Hence, he insisted on one gateway for clear and precise communication which both the traveler and tour operator could trust.
Jurgen Skambraks of Hauser Excursion raised a valid concern about some earlier press releases from Nepal which mentioned it as a safe destination. He asked for specifics when communicating to the western market about how and why it is safe. He insisted that more specific communication be effective and trustworthy. Furthermore, he requested the government bodies to simplify the process instead of complicating it when trying to obtain trek/expedition permits.
Mads Mathiasen of Himalaya Trails in Denmark suggested to focus on the cultural products and promoting unique festivals of Nepal’s unique selling points (USPs).
Sergey Vertelov of the Himalaya Club - Russia suggested to take safety as the paramount of travel importance when looking to book a Nepalese adventure experience. He also suggested to explore the areas which are perceived relatively safer, in order to jump start Nepal’s tourism industry.
Similarly, Robin Boustead, Director of Great Himalaya Trail Alliance, suggested to offer better products and also have a long-term plan to invest in infrastructure and professional development of its human resources. These things are vital in order to pass on a positive message that Nepal is still a wonderful destination to visit.
The presentation by the international tour operators was followed by a discussion and Q&A session which was moderated by the Nepal Association of Tour Operators (NATO) President, Ashok Pokharel. It was a very engaging session as it helped the local operators to understand the expectations and perceptions of foreign tour operators. The industry cannot thank SAMARTH enough for inviting the tour operators to Nepal from different continents and holding an effective interaction, which is the need of the hour. In the closing remarks, Mr. Wouter assured to continue with such interaction programs by SAMARTH. It plans to invite other eminent tour operators, including cultural holidays focused from emerging as well as traditional source markets in the near future.
It was evident that the world is sympathetic towards Nepal. However, the recovery of the tourism industry is entirely dependent on pragmatic actions of its leaders, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders. Nepal has no choice but to focus on tourism in order to turn its sorrow into a stepping stone for sustainable development of the nation.
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