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Once is enough?

Monday, March 26th, 2012

It’s a miracle tourists are still coming to Nepal despite everything we do to deter them. Prospective visitors first have to overcome lack of information, shoddy web sites, problems with bookings, and not being able to pay online. The information that is available is dominated by reviews and feedback from tourists complaining about over-charging, grimy hotels, garbage-filled streets, and tourists being stranded for days by shutdowns.

Then there is the cost of getting to Nepal. Leaving aside Bhutan, which has deliberately priced itself into a premium bracket, it is much cheaper and more convenient for tourists to go to neighbouring countries than to come to Nepal. Treks in northern Thailand, Laos and the Indian Himalaya are much more reasonably priced and less of a hassle to get to. With Burma throwing open its doors, visitors now have additional options.

And it is when they land at TIA that arriving tourists find out what we really mean when we promote ‘adventure tourism’. The airport is not for the faint-hearted, the queues snake through the dimly lit, low-ceilinged arrival area with few signs showing which line is for what. Tourists without visas end up waiting more than an hour to get through. Once outside, they find they have to pay hefty fees to enter cities that are full of trinket touts, filth and crumbling infrastructure.

Two Tourism Ministers ago there was an effort to try to make the departure holding areas appear less like gas chambers, but they are back to being scruffy, unventilated, and reeking of unwashed latrines. That minister gave up trying to shake off the mafia that controls the fleet of dilapidated airport taxis. However, for proof that it is possible to run a clean and efficient airport, one only needs to climb upstairs to the restaurant and lounge run by the Radisson Hotel.

Less said about TIA’s rubber stamp security the better. The four unsolicited pre-departure patdowns are a joke. The airport police’s idea of ‘beefed up’ security is to add another layer of bureaucracy and an extra frisking on the apron before boarding, instead of fixing unserviceable x-ray machines. If it’s any consolation, Nepalis are treated even more shabbily than tourists by immigration and customs officials in their own country.

The airport can’t be an island of efficiency and integrity when rest of the country is so badly managed, but being a third world nation can no longer be an excuse to be third rate where tourism is concerned. Bringing in a million tourists makes no sense at all if they go home and spread the word that Nepal is a dump.

The sole port of arrival and departure gives the first and lasting impression to visitors, and sadly it shows Nepal in all its grubby microcosm, replicating the squalour, corruption, and the dismissive rudeness of officialdom outside. Down the hill from the airport, the triangular folly known as Tinkune has for more than a decade been a symbol of a failing state. Nepal has the look of a country that doesn’t know where it is going, and doesn’t care if the rest of the world knows it.

We understand it is a structural problem that stems from the corrupt politics that has blighted not just the tourism industry, but governance overall. And perhaps the poorest country in Asia doesn’t deserve to have a slick airport. But if tourism is such an integral part of our economy, and means so much for the image we project about ourselves, the least we can do is to make it easy and pleasant for visitors to come to Nepal, and stay on.

For starters: get rid of the visa requirement for tourists. Stamp their passports and let them stay for two months. Why force them to stand in line for hours filling forms?

There is something that attracts tourists to Nepal even when we make it so difficult for them, just imagine how many more would visit if we removed the aggravations.

Editorial – Nepali Times

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One Response to “Once is enough?”

  1. Sreela Kolandai on Says:

    Dear Mr Dixit,
    We met at the home of Parameswaran (AFP) in Singapore in the 90s. In January 2012, I visited Nepal my dream destination. Yes I was delayed for 31/2 hours clearing immigration and retrieving luggage. But thereafter, had no problems buying prepaid taxi cupon, changing currency and even got to my hotel safely. Taxi drivers were polite, very helpful and never demanded extra cash.

    Throughout my stay of 10 days, I was met with kindness and friendship from Jawalekhal to Tinkune to Thamel. Trinket touts never bothered me in Thamel nor street peddlars haggle me at heritage temples. Shopkeepers I encountered went out of their way to assist me and never pestered me to purchase.

    Yes, I was delayed by one day for my departure as my flight was cancelled at Tribhuvan. My kind cabbie guided me through and safely delivered me back to my hotel and this was at 9pm. The following day there was very long queue at the departure counter, mostly Nepali workers departing for Malaysia. To my sheer delight, I was upgraded to Shangrila class. I intend to return to Nepal, that beautiful country full of smoke pollution, dusty roads, garbage strewn streets and quaint shops, where some of the most beautiful people who tread our planet live.

    Thank you.

    Sreela Kolandai

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