Nepal Tourism Board's paper trail looks different these days. Gone are the pictures of Everest, the Kumari, and the Buddha under the tree. New publicity materials for the 'Naturally Nepal' campaign carry cartoonist Abin Shrestha's illustrations of 'Rhino dai' hurrying across Basantapur laden with shopping bags, partying in Kathmandu, bungee jumping over the Bhote Koshi, and meditating at a retreat.
Faced with steadily declining arrivals, the tourism body is looking to reposition Nepal's image in the international (and especially Indian) market, and compete with other travel destinations in Asia. Since March 2006, the dreary 'Visit Nepal' campaign has been replaced with 'Naturally Nepal-Once is not Enough', which has the ambitious aim of attracting a total of 10 million tourists by 2010 and making Nepal a top ten global destination. Last year's arrival figure was 375,000.
Says Aditya Baral, NTB's Public Relations Director, "India makes up for almost 35 percent of total tourist arrival. But that does not mean we will not take our campaign to a global level."
The new campaign moves away from obvious expressions of Nepal's uniqueness, which is long-overdue. "Nepal is about our mountains, culture and heritage, but it is also about our hospitality, festivals, extreme adventure, air sports, meditation and much more," says Nandini Lahe-Thapa, Director of Tourism Marketing and Promotion at NTB. Dance bars are now being promoted as part of a suggested Stag Weekend in Kathmandu.
After launching the brand in Kathmandu in March this year, and at the ITB in Berlin in March 2006, NTB has moved onto Delhi with a series of low cost marketing initiatives, such as guerrilla poster campaigns in Gurgaon and South Delhi, a print campaign in leading dailies, search engine optimisation for the web, and promotions in caf?s and movie theatres.
Spurred on by the political changes in April, tourist arrivals from India have increased by almost 24 percent in June compared with last year's figures.
"Although we cannot take all the credit for the increase in arrivals, we are encouraged to see that more people feel it is safe to come to Nepal," says Thapa. When tourism officials here agreed that Nepal needed to be re-branded, they found that while some of the creatives could be produced here, an outside mind was needed to better understand the pulls and patterns of international tourism. So NTB conducted a global tender in October 2005, and picked the New Delhi-based Alchemy Social Infrastructure, in large part due to budget realities.
Alchemy has previously worked on promotional campaigns for the Soaltee Group in Kathmandu, India's PVR cinemas, and with an Amsterdam-based PR agency, Y&R. Its local partner, Business Advantage, is meant to be 'creative reputation manager' for the Indian market, working with NTB from December last year through February, to develop an art-based look for the campaign, and carry out research, planning and consultation with private and government agencies in Nepal, India and other major tourist generating markets. "Unlike earlier campaigns, this brand was not based on mere intuition," Baral says.
"The campaign's tagline 'Once is not enough' should serve as a mantra for the Nepali tourism industry to focus on customer retention rather than customer acquisition," says Arun Anand, brand consultant at Alchemy. Nepal has traditionally had up to 40 percent repeat visitors, so it's debatable whether this is a horse that needs more flogging. And repeat visitors might notice that some of the images in the brochure are not from Nepal (a Buddha set against Chinese characters), and others are plain wrong, such as an inverted image of Everest).
But if any publicity is good publicity even if it is Nepal appearing on the nightly news for the wrong reasons then Nepal is off to a flying start. Tourism veteran Yogendra Shakya, chairman of Club Himalaya, says: "While it is good to attract tourists by promising weekend retreats, it is also very important to make sure that we deliver quality products."
NTB can plaster South Delhi with posters, but if the campaign continues to have minimal local participation, no amount of cute cartoons will help. Says Shakya, "The challenge is to get everyone singing the same song. NTB can't work alone in this, it should plan to make every travel agent, every hotel owner, travel entrepreneur and every Nepali its brand ambassador."