SUBASH NIROLA, senior director of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), is the officiating CEO of NTB. With his long professional association with NTB spanning over a decade, Nirola spoke candidly with Terence Lee of THT Perspectives about the challenges and problems facing Nepal’s tourism industry. Excerpts:
How is tourism being affected by the present political uncertainty, the bandhs and protest programmes?
This is not a very healthy situation for tourism, because the implications of whatever happens in Nepal become global. When you talk about tourism, people expect a pristine destination, beautiful, calm and value for money. Tourists don’t want to be stranded here for no reason or fault of their own. But one has to be optimistic and things can change. What we see today may not be tomorrow. We are urging all the stakeholders — whether political, social or individual — to let us work together to at least give a good image and impression of our destination. Otherwise, we will have to pay a very heavy price.
We’ve invested and are still investing heavily in marketing the destination and now when it is time to reap the harvest, such problems will affect the industry adversely. In tourism, things change very fast and people tend to forget problems very soon but we shouldn’t take this notion for granted. Let it be a lesson for us so that tomorrow there is no negative news as we have seen in the last couple of months. I’m hopeful that things will change in the days to come.
What is the current feedback and fallout you are receiving?
There are already a lot of cancel-lations and queries about the situation in Nepal. There is also a lot of speculation and reservations about travelling to Nepal. With today’s modern means of communications, people are aware of what’s happening and the media is also reporting the situation. We have to look at it from that perspective and in the present situation there is a lot of speculation. That’s why it
is important for us to correct the situation. If we can do that right now, the market will correct itself.
Will the marketing and promotion plans continue or will it be affected?We will continue living despite the problems and so in that way our
marketing, et cetera will go on because we shouldn’t forget that the NTB was functioning with its marketing and promotion programmes even during the years of political conflict. The global trend is that if a destination is not visible and doesn’t participate in fairs and marts, it loses out because the market is very competitive and there are many countries in our region that are very tough to compete against. We’ll have to continue with our plans.
What kind of competition and challenges do we face as a destination?
Accommodation and food and other things may not be that expensive compared to other destinations but the air component certainly makes Nepal expensive. The aircraft to Nepal are also smaller with many stops and there are no direct flights. Also, our national flag carrier is not just weak but dying slowly with every passing day. From that perspective, we have many challenges and competition is tough. But again, Nepal being an exclusive destination with unparallel-ed beauty, heritage and religious attractions gives us the competitive
advantage. However, in terms of leisure and entertainment, we don’t have much to offer. In that respect, people may look at other destination not only in South Asia but also South East Asia like Malaysia, Singapore, China, among others. We’ve to understand that there is competition and we’ve to design our strategy carefully to see how we move ahead.
At NTB, politics is delaying the appointment of the CEO and has created problems in the appointment of board members. Is politics holding the entire country to ransom?
Honestly, we don’t have a proper system. We don’t operate under ethics and values. These are things we try to accommodate as per our comfort and how much we think is right. This is especially so when it comes to authority and politicians. In this respect, I think we must all dare to speak out. What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong.
In the case of NTB, there are stringent provisions for CEO as a person with the right requirements who can lead the tourism sector. We haven’t been able to appoint such a person because of politics as you have rightly said. The same thing has
happened with the appointment of board members, which has run into legal hassles and the issue is in court. As officiating CEO and a senior director working here for the last 12 years, I’m trying my best to stop politics from entering and hampering the system.
I’m not saying politics is bad. Politics for the right reason can bring about good. But politics that hinders operation of an organisation is not right. This is becoming a problem and through you and other media I want to communicate this message that currently we are not moving in the right way. If such politics continue and we don’t refrain from doing what we are doing, we won’t be able to achieve our objectives. This is a national tourism office with great responsibility and should be allowed to function under capable leadership. The CEO and others should be selected without any political or other bias. If you ask me as a professional, I’d love to see things being transparent and in line with securing a future for all of us and the industry. Also, tourism has the responsibility to fulfil the nation’s expectations and we need to move with this perspective.
Do you think the private sector should play a greater role in NTB?
When you talk about the tourism board, it should represent the entire industry. The private sector should not have a different voice from those working within the system. We should agree on common minimal points. We’ve to do what needs to be done. I’d say the private sector has to play a more dominant role and come to the forefront. Tourism needs the private sector in the driving seat and this has to be communicated to the government authorities. This is not happening currently. Personally, I see a vacuum and that has to be filled by the private sector. We also have to create the environment and attract investment in new areas as well. The private sector has to take the lead in helping tourism make a difference for the whole country — from earning more foreign currency to enhancing the livelihood of people in rural areas and creating employment. It’s very encouraging to see the figures in the last few years and tourism is certainly growing but now we’ve to make it sustainable and act together as professionals to bring change in the country.