17-23 February 2017 #846

A solid tourism brand

Jiwan Bahadur Shahi
Madhu Sudan Dahal

Nepal’s tourism industry survived a devastating earthquake two years ago. It hit rock bottom, and now it can only go up. Nepal is a solid tourism brand, and we have shown we can withstand shocks. 

Many things were done right. First, the government showed it was quick to get back on its feet by holding a high-profile International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction in Kathmandu itself two months after the earthquake in 2015.

Read also:

Inbound rebound, Editorial

2 million in 2020, Shreejana Shrestha

There was donor pressure to having it in India or Japan, but Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat insisted that it was important to hold it in Nepal to demonstrate to the world that the country was open for visitors. Second, international rescue teams and media highlighted the fact that despite having suffered so much Nepalis living in shelters were as hospitable and friendly as ever. 

We will be completing two new international airports, the Kathmandu gateway is being expanded to take more flights, new luxury hotels are coming up, and Nepal Airlines is adding two new Airbus 330s. I don’t think it will be difficult to bring in 2 million tourists by 2020, in fact we can get even more if we can tap our true tourism potential. So far we have only focused only Everest, Annapurna, Pokhara and Chitwan. The Far West, for example, has tremendous adventure and pilgrimage tourism prospects.

There are some bottlenecks: mainly poor infrastructure and aviation safety. Kathmandu Airport is congested, and flights are expensive. People from Japan can fly to Australia twice for the price of a round-trip to Kathmandu. There are no direct flights to Europe. Within Nepal, it is difficult to get around. 

It helps that I am a pilot myself and understand aviation. In the last five months, I have been trying to bring disused remote airfields into operation. Last week we inaugurated Kalikot, which had been under  construction for 31 years. We are now reviving airfields in Bajhang, Dang, Doti and Sanfe. Nepal Airlines aircraft were sitting in the hangar, we have got four Chinese planes now flying trunk and remote routes. Our next step is to upgrade management and tackling the shortage of pilots by increasing salaries. 

Arrival numbers are picking up, and we have everything in place to achieve the target of bringing in 2 million tourists by 2020.  

Jiwan Bahadur Shahi is Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Culture.

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