Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Fear of flying


It is good to see that tourist arrivals have increased and the Nepali tourism industry is just waiting for elusive peace to return. However, are we prepared to handle the increasing number of tourists at our airports?

Globally, efficient airports are becoming pre-requisites for tourism as well as for healthy economies. China is the fore-runner, building more airports than any other country in the world. Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong are proud to have the most efficient airports in the region. In Heathrow, one can exit the airport less than 15 minutes after leaving the aircraft. Globally, airports are competing with each other to provide the best services to airlines and passengers. But the inefficient, crowded and delay-prone airports of Delhi and Mumbai demonstrate too clearly how airports can hinder tourism and economic growth.

Nepal's airports have always been unique. We take pride in our mediocrity. While we collect one of the highest airport taxes in the region, we have not invested that money into making the airports efficient. (We should exclude from discussions the airports outside Kathmandu-some of them should be kept in their present unbelieveable states so that they might enter a record book some day.)

Our only international airport has always been a subject of ridicule, be it in travel memoirs or on today's internet travel blogs. In the name of security we have made the airport customer-unfriendly. While hordes of security personnel inside make the lives of travellers miserable, this Beed observed quite a few people begging in the parking lots! It may or may not be a security hazard but it is likely not the first and best thing for a visitor to see.

While globally, travellers are pampered with pre-check-in facilities, city check-in and many more fast-track services, the people working at our airports look upon travellers as more privileged than themselves, therefore fair game for harassment. TIA is one of the few airports in the world that does not believe in different classes of travel so priority baggage comes out last and partitioned cubicles serve as lounges. Elsewhere, travellers have the freedom to pay extra and demand extra, be it fast-track services at check-in or a real swanky limousine to whisk them away from the airport. The Beed cannot stop repeating the need to replace TIA's rickety, pre-referendum taxis that give the place such an ugly look and the arriving flyer who is unfortunate enough to hire one a harrowing experience.

Passengers who travel through the domestic airport want to hang their heads in shame at its condition, which perhaps also reflects the current state of our nation. The conveyor belt at baggage x-ray has to be manually pushed by the passenger, who still receives what can only be termed disgusting treatment from the personnel. How can we even talk about flying more people to Lukla, Bharatpur or Jomsom as any tourist who makes the trip would never want to repeat it?

There is no other option but to point the finger at the government and institutions like the Nepal Tourism Board and then call for private management of the airports. However, looking at the performance of Nepal's private airlines gives little hope as they are as problem-laden as the government. The only option is to call in an experienced international player to operate our airports.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)