By: SUGAT RATNA KANSAKAR
The world has changed completely in the last six months due to coronavirus crisis. Almost every human-being in the world and every sector have been severely affected, which resulted in all economic activities coming to a near standstill. Due to very nature of tourism industry, it is the hardest hit sector. Nepal cannot be an exception. Moreover, among all industries existing in Nepal, tourism is the one having brightest future and creating highest number of jobs in the country.
International Finance Corporation (IFC) of World Bank Group had initiated a program called
Country Private Sector Diagnostic (CPSD) to asses the state of the private sector, identification
of near-term opportunities for private sector engagements, and to give recommendations of
reforms and policy actions to mobilize private investment and drive solutions to key
development challenges. After conducting systematic study of growth driving sectors, the CPSD published its findings about 19 months back in November 2018. The report has placed tourism as high-priority sector with comparative advantage. One interesting finding is that addition of every six foreign tourist creates one new job in case of Nepal, whereas worldwide average is creation of one job from eleven tourist arrivals.
Similarly, the recent research done jointly by United Nations World Tourism Organization
(UNWTO) and Oxford Economics, taking into consideration the global statistics of past five
years, shows that a whopping 25% of jobs in the whole world is created by Travel and Tourism
sector. Obviously, the most effective weapon to fight unemployment problem in Nepal is the
increased flow of foreign tourists. According to another global organization World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), a country like Nepal, blessed with an abundance picturesque natural destinations and cultural diversity, the tourism sector is definitely an important part of the national economy. Hence, there cannot be second opinion to the fact that the Government of Nepal must give top-most priority to tourism sector.
Tourism sector contains two distinct components- domestic tourism and international one. To
the pleasant surprise of tourism trade and industry, in recent years before Coronavirus crisis, domestic tourists is increasing steadily. At one time it is reported that around 75% of hotel and lodge rooms were occupied by domestic tourists. Tourism ministry and Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) should, therefore, must bring certain ‘out-of-box’ ideas or ways and means to boost domestic tourism in post-Covid-19 scenario. One lesson could be learned from India’s concept of Leave Travel Concession (LTC), a special scheme launched in the year 2019, especially to boost domestic tourism in India.
The countries sending maximum number of tourists to Nepal are India, China, USA, Sri Lanka,
UK, Thailand, Germany, France, Australia, Japan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and South Korea. Key is to attract more and more tourists not only from those countries, but also from other countries by competing with other destination countries. On this, the national flag carrier NAC must play a big role, and embark upon expansion of its fleet on urgent basis. As E-commerce has emerged as the fastest growing business model in the global market and dominated by extremely tech- savvy young generation, the industry must not shy away from high-tech electronic business transactions. The bottom line is that Nepal, as a whole, must be available online as one of the most attractive tourist-destination of the world.
As to the daunting task of bringing in foreign visitors amidst Covid-19 crisis, we must be
prepared to learn from the outside world. Many countries including global organizations have already done lots of home-work by conducting detailed research and analysis on this topic. A new terminology has already been coined to define post-Covid-19 scenario – ‘the new normal’. Obviously, it is applicable in tourism industry as well. All stake-holders of tourism sector must gear-up to work in the new normal environment. And Tourism ministry and NTB must first define the ‘new normal’ environment of tourism industry.
It is certain that a detailed scrutinization shall have to be done regarding status of Coronavirus situation in each of the countries, from where the visitors are originated. Equally important is the preparation by Nepalese tourism business operators to guard against possible Coronavirus infection within their premises. It may be risky to open all tourist spots at one go. Tourism ministry may have to finalize priority spots, and then carefully opening on step-by-step basis. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has proposed a framework with layers of protection against coronavirus infection and identified two areas- reducing the risk of imported cases via travelers and mitigating risk in case an infected person has already arrived. Our government must look into the suggestion given by IATA to avoid quarantine measures on arriving tourists. It is to be noted that in a research done, almost 83% of travelers refused to even consider travelling, if quarantine measure is made compulsory at their destination country. This is a serious matter to be resolved by Nepalese government urgently.
Just one month back on 28 th May 2020, the global organization UNWTO has published a
document named Global Guidelines to restart Tourism. The document was prepared with
contribution from UNWTO Crisis Committee, representatives from UNWTO member states, the
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Labor Organization (ILO), World Bank, Airports Council International (ACI), IATA, and WTTC. It will be quite justified to take note of this document before formulating post-coronavirus tourism strategy of Nepal.
Bottom line is that there is no point in ‘re-inventing the wheel’. Many tourism-rich countries
like Singapore, Australia, Thailand, Spain, Italy etc. as well as global organizations like WTTC, UNWTO, IATA, ACI, ICAO have already done detailed study and analysis regarding revival of tourism in the midst of coronavirus crisis. Reports of those studies can be the basis for finalizing steps to revive tourism sector in Nepal as well. It will better if the Tourism ministry form a full- time team consisting one or two officials from each of the various concerned entities- the ministry, NTB, CAAN, NAC, HAN, NATTA etc. The ministry should make sure that the team sits full time every day until a clear-cut detailed recommendation is finalized. The detailed recommendation should include all kinds of precautionary measures, standard operating procedures, plan of action etc. covering entire range from airport apron bus, arrival lounge to immigration, baggage collection, customs, taxi/transport service, hotel accommodation, city- tour buses, guides, sight-seeing spots, restaurants, bars, discos, casinos and so on. We must be able to assure the outside world that Nepal is a perfectly safe place to visit from the angle of coronavirus infection.