11 - 24 October 2013 #677

Selling ourselves short

Tsering Dolker Gurung

For years, Nepal’s tourism industry has lamented that the country has gone for quantity rather than quality. They point to Bhutan, which has priced itself as a premium destination, as the model Nepal should have followed.

Well, guess what? Nepal has neither quantity nor quality. Only one in every eight tourist who visits Nepal goes on treks. And because of undercutting between Nepali trekking agencies, the rates they pay are so low that it is hardly worthwhile.

Now, a new breed of young trekking entrepreneurs fed up with bargain-hunting European wholesalers, trekking middlemen, and rapacious local agents have taken the initiative to sell Nepal for its true worth.

“Nepal should be promoted as an exotic destination and not a cheap one,” says Raj Tamang (pic, above) of Responsible Adventure. “We have a world class product that adventure tourists from around the world want to visit again and again.”

Tamang has just come back from around Manaslu with a group of Singaporeans who are on their fourth trek in Nepal. Tourists don’t mind paying more if the service is good, the facilities are comfortable, and all the permits and pickups are taken care of, he says.

Currently there are more than 2,000 trekking and travel operators in the country. An easy registration procedure and minimum investments are fuelling the number further resulting in stifling competition between agencies to attract clients.

“The trend of under-cutting each other and the lack of innovation have eroded the value of the trekking industry,” says Tamang, who started Responsible Adventures in 2007 with a completely different business model of ‘boutique’ tea-house treks in Nepal, India, Tibet, and Bhutan.

“Although our prices are almost double that of other companies, our clients don’t complain because they get the value of their money,” explains Tamang. “Imagine getting a hot bowl of tomato soup with freshly made croutons after a long day of traversing through passes. These are the little things that we do to ensure we give the best to our customers.”

On an average, Responsible Adventures serves up to 50 clients a year with the majority of them coming from North America, Australia, and New Zealand. With years of experience in the industry, Tamang has seen first-hand how tourists can be mistreated and abused by guides and company employees. “Because the aim is to make quick bucks and not aim for repeat customers, people don’t focus on service,” he adds.

Trekking in Nepal has also been adversely affected by the network of roads snaking up what used to be hiking trails. With the pristine environment spoiled by roads and fumes, trekker numbers have dropped in Annapurna for instance. Roads also allow mass tourism which further degrades the environment if it is not carefully regulated.

Says Tamang: “We should concentrate on quality eco-tourism and not mass tourism.”

Read also:

Spirit Mountain, #677