It's the season for that favourite Nepali catchphrase, 'guests are like gods'. All well and good, but what about those who work to bring these guests here and make them feel at home? In the news this week are two telling items: the good and bad news that all airlines seats to Nepal are sold out, and that a delegation of tourism entrepreneurs felt obliged to go to the prime minister's office to ask for an end to pseudo-militant unions and the extortion racket.
Nepal's tourism has over the past decade run into problems the second things start to look up: the IC 849 hijacking, riots sparked by a rumour about what some Indian actor said, the royal massacre, 9/11, Gulf War II, SARS, Maoists, blockades, and travel advisories. If that weren't enough, in March 2001 hotels shut down due to a labour row over the service charge and in August 2004 a hotel was bombed. We just can't get it right.
If our tourism sector wants a boost, the government, entrepreneurs, and workers all need to wake up. the government needs to revive Airline Seat Agreements to allow more airlines to fly in. With one-and-a-half aircraft, our flag carrier will not get anywhere. Why can't we have 25 flights from different Indian cities everyday? Let's hand over management of the airport to global experts. Better yet, let's give international players good concessions to build an international airport. Nepal Tourism Board needs to sort out its internal personality clashes without resorting to lawsuits.
Tourism entrepreneurs can do the most, by first getting away from the politicking of their various associations. Constructing hotels was a way to get bank loans and upgrade an individual's lifestyle, then the bleak tourism scenario was a way to default on debt. Time to stop that. Time also to take advantage of the branding exercise underway ('Visit Nepal again, and again', #309). It may not be perfect, but it's the only one we've got. When Incredible India was launched, there was a lot of naysaying, but it's turned out to be a positive, enduring brand.
The Beed has devoted enough column inches to our labour force. But it's a fact that political forces manipulate labour, especially in the tourism sector, to their own ends. Labour can only exist if enterprises do. Why do we Nepalis not mind working in sub-human conditions outside Nepal, but in our own country demand the sky? Of course, the industry needs to respect labour and related laws, but unions can do their bit by not disrupting operations or staging demonstrations in hotel lobbies, or holding owners to ransom.
Our core competencies in this service sector are our famous smile and politeness. Lose those, and our chances of doing well look pretty bleak. Political leaders may sway the minds of the labour force in the short run, but for long-term growth we need a workforce that enterprise can trust and work with.
Tourism is and can continue to be one of our pillars of growth. It's time now to strengthen, not hammer at, its foundations, so we can pick up where the golden run of the early 90s left off.