Interview with Shankar Prasad Adhikari
Secretary - Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Civil Aviation, Government of Nepal
After years of tumultuous political atmosphere and the devastating earthquake in 2015, Nepal is looking to revive tourism in a significant manner. It is organising Visit Nepal Year 2018 and taking many steps to attract more tourists.
Where does India-Nepal tourism stand at the moment?
Expanding the Buddhist Circuit between India and Nepal has been under discussion for a long time. There are many places in Nepal beyond Lumbini. Tourists from India come but they stay just one or two hours to see the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Many of them do not even spend a night in Nepal, so we are trying to develop our Buddhist circuit and connect with India so that the link between Nepal and India become more fruitful. For this, we have to work together – India and Nepal have to develop infrastructure in and around Lumbini and the other important places in Nepal. The matter has been under discussion for a long time, but we have to move forward efficiently and effectively so that the length of the stay gets extended. Nepal and India have different religious places. Nepalese people go to India for pilgrimage and Indians come to Nepal. Lots of Indians visit Janakpur and Bara areas. Janakpur has its own very strong relation with Ayodhya. In order to develop Bara and Lumbini, to attract more Indian tourists we have to develop infrastructures in these places.
Air connectivity with India as well as with rest of the world is very important to promote tourism. What are the plans to develop more entry-exit routes with India, other than Kathmandu?
Up till now, we do have just one inbound air service route that is Simara, other than Kathmandu. All the international flights coming to Nepal enter through Simara. Nepal has been proposing other routes like Janakpur, Nepalganj and Mahendranagar. With regard to Mahendranagar, the government of India has in principle agreed to allow this route. We have to also talk with Myanmar as we are trying to develop a route that involves them. We are currently conducting a safety assessment on this route. We are also in the process of developing more airports like Gautam Buddha airport in Bhairawa and one in Pokhara.
So far, the central region of Nepal is the main attraction for the Indian tourists. Are you trying to develop other parts as well?
Actually, for Indian tourists, other than Pokhara, the far western parts of Nepal are very near to Delhi. We are also trying to develop the areas like Rara Lake and Khaptad National Parks. With many important natural and heritage sites in western part of Nepal, the government is trying to work with the IFC (International Finance Corporation) to develop the entire region. Pokhara is very important as a tourist destination and we have to develop Pokhara and its periphery area as Greater Pokhara, incorporating the nearby other important destinations.
Is the Tibetan culture in Nepal also a pulling factor for the Indians?
The northern part of Nepal is influenced by Tibetan culture. The people are Buddhists with strong Tibetan background, unique with its great heritage value. There are so many old Gumphas (monasteries) in the Himalayan region. Indian people love to explore this. Also in the recent years, the number of Indians going to Kailash through Nepal route is increasing. The Tibetan culture, clothes, food and junk jewellery attract the Indian tourists a lot.
How important has the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage by Indian tourists become for you?
Yes, as far as has been reported to me, the number of Indian tourists going to the Mount Kailash through Nepal is increasing and the route is via Humla and Simikot. Most of the Indian tourists go to Humla and take a helicopter ride from Humla to the Kailash. Another route is from Tatopani and Rasuwa. Humla is more popular as Tatopani is closer to the Chinese border.
Since the 2015 earthquake, Nepal has bounced back remarkably. Would you summarise how these two tough years have been?
After the earthquake of 2015, tourism arrival numbers went down steeply. In 2016, we started to regain the market. We took part in different travel marts and tourism festivals and by the use of international media, we could bounce back. The year 2017 is the year of revival. In 2018, we will be celebrating the Visit Nepal Year. For the preparation of that, we have to increase our tourism promotion programmes and campaigns in the year 2017. This year will be the most important year for Nepal’s tourism development and if all go well, we will get the benefit in 2018.
Keeping Visit Nepal Year 2018 in mind, what are your plans to revamp the hospitality and transportation infrastructure of Nepal?
At the moment, 1.2 to 1.3 million tourists can be managed by the infrastructure that we have. We have to develop our infrastructure. During the last couple of years, many quality hotels have come up or are coming up. If we are able to develop the Gautam Buddha airport properly, the arrival of tourists will increase.
Have you set any target in terms of tourist numbers, especially from India?
We now have the Tourism Vision 2020 target. In that document, we have mentioned that there has to be two million tourists by 2020. India will be the lead contributor in that. Along with India, China is also our emerging market. We do get a good number of tourists from Europe. We are intensifying our promotions in the European market. Surprisingly, Bangladeshi tourists are also increasing and we are getting more Buddhist tourists from other Asia-pacific countries. Nevertheless, other than India, Europe and America remain our key focus market.
What is the status of the Royal Nepal Airline?
To be honest, Royal Nepal Airline is not doing well. So, we are trying to reform the management. We are also in the process of purchasing new aircraft. The national flag carrier will be improved and we are looking at inviting strategic partners for it.
You have a range of biodiversity with mountains, forests and lakes to protect. What responsible and sustainable tourism practices Nepal Tourism is trying to follow and promote?
The current year is the International Year for Sustainable Tourism. Nepal is a pioneer in sustainable tourism practices. We have 12 national parks and the management of these national parks involves local community to protect our biodiversity. We have buffer zones and different committees to secure ‘zero poaching’ for the last three-four years. The famous Chitwan National Park has also been made a ‘zero poaching area’. We are also in the process of planning some more developmental programmes involving the local communities in the touristic areas.
What is Nepal tourism’s plan for the Indian tourists?
Nepal is developing. Despite Nepal being a popular destination among the Indians, there is much more to explore yet. The border with India is open and the Indian citizens don’t even need a passport to enter Nepal. Culturally as well, Nepal and India are very similar. A Nepali can easily understand Hindi. Many of our festivals are common. Our food, clothes and lifestyle are very close to each other. Indian films are very popular in Nepal. Many Nepali artists work in Indian and have gathered fame. Other than popular tourism circuits, we are promoting adventure circuits, honeymoon tourism and wellness tourism for the Indian tourists. Nepal and India have a very cordial bilateral relation from time immemorial. Indians feel at home in Nepal.