Nepali Times
Terrorism vs Tourism

In the five months after the Bali bombing, Indonesia made some pretty smart moves.

It didn't waste money on publicity in Australia, Europe and North America. Instead, it launched promotion blitzes in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. As a result, through the Chinese new year last month, Bali hotels were nearly full once more. Through a strategic phase-wise plan of rescue, rehabilitation, normalisation and expansion, Bali is rebounding (see page 10).

There is a lot we in Nepal can learn from how the Balinese have handled a cataclysmic event in which two terrorist bombs on 12 October 2002 killed nearly 200 people: most of them Australian tourists. Here we have a country where tourists have never been harmed, and yet, we have not countered the negative publicity that has reduced the number of visitors to Nepal by half in the past four years.

Whenever we talk to tourism officials-both private sector and government-everyone has excuses. Oh, it's the IC 814 hijacking, the Hritik Roshan riots, or the royal massacre, they tell us. Or they blame India-Pakistan tensions, which for some reason never seems to affect tourism to the Maldives even though it is a South Asian country.

The problem is that very few Nepalis seem to say "we need tourists", they say "I need tourists". So, our promotional campaigns are ad hoc and lack staying power, there is little strategic diversification of market and our open sky policy protects favourites. Our individualism also means we commit harakiri by undercutting each other.

Terrorists directly and deliberately killed tourists in Bali, Egypt and Kenya, but all three are regenerating the industry. There is no reason why Nepal can't do it. Especially since our conflict has never involved tourists. It needs strategic thinking, good timing, a media savvy Nepal Tourism Board, a dynamic and competitive national airline, and an overall policy that makes it as easy as possible for as many visitors to come to Nepal and stay as long as they want.

In contrast, our policy still seems to be to make it as difficult as possible for tourists to obtain information about Nepal, find flights, and get cheap and direct connections. And when they finally land in Kathmandu, the government starts behaving like a tout. Instead of providing opportunities for tourists to spend on adventure, shopping and family-friendly packages, we levy fees every step of the way in a process that can only be called extortion. Why is that any different from tales of khaobadis robbing trekkers?

And while we are on the subject, we want to add our voice to the strong calls by the Indonesians, Thais and Malaysians to the alarmist, thoughtless and ineffective travel advisories posted by the governments of Australia, European countries, the Nordics and the United States cautioning travellers to our countries. These advisories compete with our own incompetence in keeping tourists away. It is time to do away with these over-generalised, often outdated, and absurd we\'ll-cover-our-ass memos. They may protect the governments of those countries from legal action in case something goes wrong, but they ensure that our tourism industries will never recover even if we do everything right.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)