50 years of Tiger Tops shows that a focus on high value tourism may be more advantageous for Nepal
The main tourist sector of Nepal caters to backpackers travelling up from India or across from Thailand, looking for an experience at low budget that they could not find back home.
The backpacker market is saturated with agents selling a trip to meet the demand and consequently, each passerby ends up on a similar trail. Jumping from one guesthouse to another, paying very little at each destination. The normal triangle is Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan.
But where is the real beauty? Where is the real quality experience that a well-travelled tourist would truly appreciate and be willing to pay more for? Which area provides a cultural, wholehearted authentic Nepali familiarity? There is no price for this type of trip: to visitors it is something that will stay with them for life, to be off the tourist trail appreciating real country. For Nepal, it brings in quality over quantity and creates better opportunities for the future.
One resort that has pushed quality tourism now for 50 years in Nepal is the Tiger Tops group. It started operations in Nepal in 1964 and the Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge on the periphery of Bardia National Park offers the ultimate experiential travel experience. Travelers have to fly to Nepalganj from Kathmandu and from there, the lodge staff will meet on arrival and transfer them 86km further west to the property.
The lodge sits on the edge of the park, it was renovated over the 2011-2012 season and holds a chic style that no other property in the country can be compared to. The newly renovated signature rooms bring coolness to a trendy interior from Europe. The onsite organic farm, sustains all the lodge’s needs. The park’s pristine habitat and lower numbers of visitors (compared to Chitwan) has created jeep, river and walking safaris. The lodge is now home to the annual World Elephant Polo Championship, a one of a kind world-class competition, which has been running since 1982.
The model is impressive given its remoteness in Nepal, a real gem in the western region. Nepal needs more of these models for its tourism sector to grow and develop, keeping up with the likes of neighboring countries, India and Bhutan. Quality properties will bring infrastructure, education and possibilities for those working in the trade.
Great examples of quality tourism are where we have very effective public and private partnerships, with the government providing the framework and infrastructure, the private sector and the products. This will generate demand and interest in the global market place, Nepal’s competitors to be all emerging countries that recognise this, as oppose to its neighbors. Quality has the potential to make a huge positive impact on all areas of the economy and be a major contributor to its GDP.
The advantages of quality tourism have to be understood from policy-makers in Singha Darbar right down to the grassroots. This will enable the industry to start working and competing for the model, as oppose to operations fighting for the current driven demand. Each part of a traveler’s path will have to start thinking of ways to strive and achieve success to compete in the global marketplace. There is no doubt, the topography and scenery of Nepal is world class if not world Number One. It is just a matter of building and using the foundations to fulfill its potential.
Selling ourselves short
Nepal has always been a free-for-all where low budget tourists on shoe-string budgets as well as high value tourists flocked in. But as the service industry couldn’t deliver quality, and Kathmandu’s attractions were tarnished by urbanisation, the country started depending on quantity rather than quality of tourists.
The most glaring example of this is trekking. Only one in eight tourists to Nepal goes trekking, and many bargain for the cheapest rates even though they can afford to pay more because they know the services provided are not up to international standards.
Now, a new breed of young trekking entrepreneurs has started offering international standard comforts to trekking groups and found to their pleasant surprise that visitors are willing to pay more.
“Nepal should be promoted as an exotic destination and not a cheap one,” says Raj Tamang of Responsible Adventure. “We have a world class product that adventure tourists from around the world want to visit again and again.”
Intense competition between the 2,000 or so trekking agencies means that they end up undercutting each other and the European wholesalers take advantage of this. Nepal has a fabulous trekking product, but it is underselling itself.