Domestic tourism emerges promising
Nepal had recorded 1.2 million foreign tourists arrival in 2019. The country’s target was to receive 2 million foreign tourists in the following year and more in the later years. But sudden outbreak of coronavirus infection in almost all countries in the world dumped all such plans. The entire world not only stopped travelling but stayed far from a person to another abiding the health protocol recommended by World Health Organization and health authorities of respective countries. Emerging of omicron variant had added further risks to the business once again. The variant could not have been identified well on the magnitude it could damage human health. Needful protection remedy is also yet to be confirmed.
Since relaxation of health protocol and quarantine for travellers a few months back, Nepali nationals are seen travelling from a place to another for recreational purpose also.However, travelling with religious and social objectives were common practices in Nepal. A rough calculation indicates that domestic tourism occupies a share of 30% to 40% of the total turnover of tourism industry. Only a detail study can give the real picture of this trade.
Pokhara, Chitwan, Lumbini, Ilam, Muktinath, Kalinchok, Janakpur, Halesi are the destinations more people visited recently. Likewise, Annapurna Base Camp, Everest Base Camp, Mustang, RaraTaal also are in the young visitors’ choice list.
The recent scenario indicates growth of domestic tourism.People are feeling free in travelling keeping up health protocol. In some places domestic tourists enjoy health freedom defying the protocols and recommendations.
The current movements of domestic tourism can compensate a little to the industry. Moreover, big establishments may have to wait longer see the good days, leaders at Hotel Association Nepal (HAN) and Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA) opine.
Tourism umbrella organizations inform that importance of domestic tourism in Nepal was realized even before coronavirus pandemic outbreak. Some campaigns like Visit Lumbini Year, Jaaunhai Pokhara (means Let’s Visit Pokhara) and promotion activities of some other interesting places were organized to lure more domestic tourists.
Domestic tourism should be promoted with governmental policy support, the experts and professionals argue. Private sector had sought government policy support to promote domestic tourism with incentives to employees. As s results, government in the budget of current fiscal year announced a provision of10 days LTA (Leave Travel Allowance also called Leave Travel Concession)for government employees to visit the touristic places in the country. It is to recall that announcing the budget, then finance minister said that in order to promote domestic tourism, 10 days paid holiday will be provided to the civil servants, and employees of public institutions and academies. “Employees working in the private sector will also be encouraged for similar packages”, his statement adds.
The government had given priority to agri-tourism, eco-tourism, Himalayan yoga tourism, high altitude sports tourism, educational tourism and conference tourism to promote in coordination with the local governments and the private sector. Similarly, the government has allocated Rs. 590 million in order to continue the tourism infrastructure development programmes implemented in 216 places in collaboration with the provincial and local government.
As per the budget of FY 2021/22 policies and programmes of the government, an integrated tourism infrastructure development programme will be implemented in collaboration with the private sector for the diversification and expansion of the tourism sector.
Following to the government announcement guidelines for implementation was sought by the ministry concerned. All concerned tourism umbrella organizations worked together on the draft and recommended needful. That was submitted to the ministry three month back with expectations for immediate actions.
The experts and professional argue that Provincial governments need to focus on promotion of domestic tourism in their respective provinces with extending supports to entrepreneurs. The facilities such as tax holidays for certain years may be one thing to support. On the other hand, the government employees and others should be imparted to involve in promotion of domestic tourism.
Some local governments are seen working better to this regard where government mechanism had identified that more than 120 local levels (rural municipalities and municipalities) are having potentials to develop as destinations for domestic tourists. Some of them are being promoted as potential destinations for foreign tourists.
Sources say that there are more than 400,000 employees in government agencies. Once the provision of tourism facility bring into effect, the tourism sector will see a good harvest of domestic tourism in the country as all the employees go for ‘touring the country’ at their appropriate and convenient schedule. So the country may need a huge amount of hospitality services in future. That may help reinstate to some extent the economy ruined by pandemic.
Sources at NATTA state that so far, 25% to 30% of tourism entrepreneurship had been collapsed due to coronavirus pandemic. That negative trend can be stopped by extending facilities as government guided supports. Refinance and relief package are the remedies, experts say. Diversion of skilled human resource which once went out may not be possible to bring back easily will be one other challenge the sector may have to face in future. That will be a huge loss to the sector.
In such a crucial situation, middle and small scale tourism industries face greater risk of vulnerability. Once they collapse, side effects could be extensive. So as their reinstate may not be possible soon. This is also to be remarked that Government systems so far had facilitated to support with credit of 1.5 to 2 million rupees package to women led tourism entrepreneurships as a survival package while male entrepreneurs are yet at lagged behind situation. (By R. P. Narayan)