Pavitra Kumar Karki is the managing director of Danfe Travel Centre, GSA for Druk Air. He is also the vice
president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA) and has been involved with the association for the last 16 years in various capacities. He spoke with Terence Lee of THT Perspectives on issues facing Nepal’s tourism industry. Excerpts:
What are the major issues facing Nepal’s tourism industry? Do you think that the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 has achieved or can achieve its target?
If we talk about target, I don’t think we will achieve the target of one million tourists during NTY-2011, but we have certainly made a lot of progress in terms of gaining momentum and spreading awareness about the importance of tourism in the country. There was some marketing, although it was delayed, and that could also be a factor. The NTY-2011 campaign could have done a lot more in terms of marketing and publicity, but we have had some challenges there. Nonetheless, we are still satisfied because we believe that even though we won’t get the one million tourists in 2011, we expect to see an increase next year and in next few years ahead. We are positive because the overall tourist arrivals have certainly gone up in the last few years with an annual increase of
almost 20 per cent. We have a great product and nature has blessed us with excellent weather. So, the future will always be bright for the tourism industry.
For the last quarter of 2011, which is also the peak season, what are your expectations?
The season is looking good and we expect things to go as per plans. Hotel bookings are good and the season holds a
lot of promise.
What are the challenges that prevent us from achieving full potential in tourism?
The biggest challenge is the national carrier or rather a weak national carrier. Without a strong national carrier, Nepal’s tourism industry can never really achieve its full potential. The air fares are very high and there is shortage of seats and air access to Nepal is still a problem. Second is lack of infrastructure and low infrastructure development and this includes no proper roads, transport and traffic problems and even the airport that is congested. Then there is also the issue of not having anything new to
offer. We are still selling the same old destinations — Kathmandu, Chitwan and Pokhara. Even when it comes to trekking routes, we have not been able to offer the tourist anything new. Even though expectations were high for NTY-2011, we have not been able to offer even one new product or different package or discounts to new areas. Moreover, this did not happen even in the tourism year. As an airline representative, I would say the major problem is that air fare is too high and seats are limited and unavailable for tourists from Europe and America.
TIA is already stretched to capacity handling the present number of flights. So increasing flights may not be an option. The problem is that the airport cannot handle the pressure of increased flights and so we have requested the government authorities to open the airport 24 hours for operation of flights. We also have to develop other airports. However, we need to understand that just inviting more international carriers is not a long-term solution as they will only fly if it is profitable. When it is not profitable, they will pull out and that’s why we have to focus on strengthening the national carrier.
As GSA for Druk Air, how would you compare tourism in Bhutan and Nepal?
Bhutan is doing tremendously well. Their package rate is USD 200 per person per day and they plan to increase that to USD 250. And yet the demand to visit Bhutan is huge. I have been
selling tickets of Druk Air and our daily flights are filled with tourists. In the first week of October, we had to make 10 additional flights besides the daily flights. Bhutan is very popular as a destination and tourists from all over the world are flying there, including from Bangkok, Kolkata and Delhi.
What are your expectations from the government to improve the tourism industry?
We need peace and stability from the government because without these, tourism cannot develop anywhere in the world. Actually if the government can ensure peace and stability, it will make a big difference because the private sector will take care of the rest. Private players will invest and the government does not need to do much. Also, we would like to see more commitment from the government in terms of creating a level playing field and simplification of processes. We need to be treated as an industry and procedures for obtaining permission et cetera should be smooth and hassle-free. We should have one window to work with government agencies. Also, we need more marketing and promotion and perhaps NTB can help create more publicity.