Travel Trade Talk with

  •   2017-12-06

Left: SUBODH THAPA is an Entrepreneur, Hotelier, Trainer and Marketing expert. He is currently looking after Tigerland Resort in Chitwan and is the General Manager of CG Hospitality
Center: BIJAY AMATYA, is the CEO of Kora Tours and has been involved in Nepal’s travel trade sector for 40 years and has travelled all over Nepal.
Right: ABDULLAH TUNCER KECECI is the general manager of Turkish Airlines for Nepal.

Travel Trade Talk (TTT) is a monthly breakfast meet to discuss challenges, solutions and opportunities for Nepal’s tourism industry organised by at Le Sherpa restaurant. Hosted and moderated by the CEO of the aim of TTT is to invite and interact with key stakeholders in the industry who can share their insights and suggest and highlight important issues and the way forward for the industry.

Along with promoting Destination Nepal we at believe that it is important promote greater commitment and cooperation in the travel trade fraternity and dialogue between all key stakeholder to ensure a better tourism product for visitors to Nepal.

The first TTT discussed the following issues:

#1. Aviation challenges and access

Bijay: We have to build a strong national carrier and along with that we need proper human capital. The private sector has been trying make our aviation better for a number of years but the growth is very slow. I remember international airlines calling for lower landing fees and if I’m not wrong the fuel prices are too high and they also say that the fuel quality is not up to international standards. There are many countries who have a subsidised fares for airlines who bring in tourists. Because if tourism prospers, it’s not just the airline who makes money. Your handicraft industry will grow and so will all the restaurants and hotels. There is a saying, to make money you have to spend money and until our government understands that tourism will not grow unless we promote more. Our national carrier should be focusing on bringing tourists but there is a feel that it is not happening. Our national carrier focuses more on labour than on tourists.

Abdullah: The fuel cost in Nepal was almost three times the price in the world market. There was a time we paid US $ 1400/Kl which recently has been dropped to 750 which is still almost double of what we pay in other places. To fly here for airlines is very hard. It has to reasonable, only then will more international airlines fly to this country.  Forty million tourist come to Turkey every year but in 2016 the figure dropped to 30 million due to unforeseen circumstances. But to get back to the numbers as before, the government gave a small fee to airlines for flying into the country. The fee wasn’t much but that’s how tourism will grow. International airlines are looking for value and when they see value, they will surely come to a place like Nepal.

Right now the airports has not been able to manage the number of flights which means spending more time in the air which results in more fuel consumption which is bad for the environment as well. The other problem with the airport is they don’t care about timing. To make sure everything is running smoothly, I reach the airport as early as 5.30 am. Even though I reach the airport in time the aircraft is sometime still holding in the air because the tower doesn’t answer until 6.00 am even if they’re in the tower. So this mind-set has to change.

International airlines shouldn’t focus on labour traffic alone because Nepal is a great tourist destination.  But we have to promote it as a tourist destination. The outbound traffic that goes from Nepal is a good plus point too. But our main focus is to improve tourism here because if more tourists come to Nepal, international airlines will surely grow as well. Turkish Airlines flies to so many destinations and we have the capacity to promote Nepal. All we ask for in return is proper infrastructure and manpower. If we have that everything can move forward.

Subodh: The differential pricing in domestic aviation is a major problem too. A certain monopoly in the market has done more harm than good. It has slowed the growth process. We had a meeting once at the tourism board where we talked about pricing. The DG from CAAN said their aviation policy allows the government to control and manage fares for domestic Nepali passengers and to advise airline to have subsidised fares and to charge a higher fee to tourists.

If you look at it there are many success models in the world that we can look up to. Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore all have set good examples. The models for success are there for everyone to see but one of the main issues is commitment as a nation to promote tourism. The government at times seems disinterested and that is a big problem for all of us. We can do all we can within our business capacity, but we need the support of the government to bring in more tourists. And to do that we desperately need a better airport cause the one we have is useless.

#2 Challenges that come with 1 million tourist

Bijay: There will be challenges. We might not have felt the pressure in Kathmandu, but there are already problems around the trekking routes where during the season you don’t get accommodation. Many tourists have told me that they have confirmed rooms but when they reach the place they don’t find rooms and have to sleep in a tent. So with more tourists coming to Nepal this problem will surely get bigger.

I feel we are developing as a nation but the pace at which we are developing is very slow. Nepal I feel needs to change its image from a cheap destination to a high value destination. When I say this I mean we have to improve the quality of our services and put up reasonable prices so people can come here and have a good experience.  

Nepali tourism has always been led by the private sector. But in the past 20 years I feel there has been a lot of politics in tourism. There are only a few institutions where politics hasn’t entered and that has really slowed down our growth.

Subodh: If you look at hotels I don’t think we’ll face much problems. There are numbers that keep getting thrown around that we will have 3000 more rooms in two years. So with this I think the quality of service will increase too because there is competition. I feel that service is the only thing that will differentiate a good hotel from a bad hotel.

As international brands like Sheraton, Marriott are entering the market, there is huge scope because these international brands will do surrogate marketing where they will promote Nepal. They will make the effort because they have to sell their product here in Nepal. So I think it’s good for the nation.

I don’t think our government gives enough emphasis on tourism. I speak on behalf of all private business that are affected by tourism. We’ve always asked the government to give us infrastructure and we would take care of the rest, because for the past 50 years, the private industry has been taking care of itself. We don’t need the government to teach us how to run a hotel, we just want the government to provide the basic infrastructure and the rest we will do ourselves.

A lot of Nepalis are travelling around the country too and we have seen a huge rise to domestic tourism. Everyone who comes to Chitwan always realises that it’s so quiet there. And somewhere in the middle of the stay will talk about why they never to the certain place before? There are normally 5 flights flying from Kathmandu to Bharatpur. But during October which is our so called start of the tourist season, they had mounted up to 18 flights a day but not more than 6 flights took off. So what is the point of mounting a flight when you can’t take off?

Abdullah: Maybe we haven’t done proper marketing because I feel Nepal can aim for up to 5 million tourists in the long run. But for now, I think the short term goal has to be at least 2 million. Because if you don’t aim high, you won’t reach your initial target. If you settle for what you have, you will never grow as business or as a nation.  Everyone has to work together to reach that mark. Firstly, the infrastructure needs to be better because if we can drive to Chitwan in 2-3 hours I think tourism will automatically grow. And if tourism grows, young people who leave Nepal will stay in the country which means more manpower in Nepal. IF we have roads and highways we can have more shops and restaurants and I feel everyone will gain.  

We also have to change the way we promote Nepal in tourism fairs. Recently I’ve been to a few trade fares and every country is promoting themselves there which is why we need to be a bit unique and do things a bit differently. I understand that most people come here for 3 days after touring India and they don’t get the chance to see other parts of Nepal. Honestly speaking, Kathmandu is one of the worst places in Nepal in terms of planning and infrastructure. For them to see how beautiful the country is they have to come here for more than 3 days and this should be our focus in trade fairs. Places like Mustang, Bardiya should also be promoted along with places like Chitwan and Pokhara so people get there.

#3 What initiatives should we focus on immediately?

Abdullah:  Firstly, I think we can try to separate the domestic and the international airport. That would be good because both are creating a problem for each other which is not good for business. And we should also be pushing for positive things. For example, making Thamel a traffic free zone has been a wonderful idea. It has made the place very organised. These small things will help tourism grow and people should encourage these sort of initiatives. The no horn initiatives has been a good idea too.

I think Nepal should be open throughout the year. What they call the off season is a perfect time to witness the lush green valleys because not everyone likes the sunny beaches, some prefer the monsoon as well which is why we should promote these packages. It is also holiday season in Europe so we have to promote it. Because Nepal is an ideal place for cultural and spiritual tourism and is perhaps the best place for photography. So we have to use that to our advantage and promote Nepal in all season.

We can also look at promoting and have deals for monuments and heritage sites around the valley to be given in the airport itself for a good price. It would help if we could offer tourists a head phone where they could listen in and understand things properly. These things give value. Right now we charge over 1000 and give them nothing which is quite wrong in my opinion.

Bijay: I think we have to keep doing new things and we have been doing new things from a long time. Nepal was the first to start wildlife tourism in Asia, Nepal was also the first to introduce Casino and river rafting. So we have always come up with new ideas to promote tourism. Even now in Pokhara there is ultralight and there is ropeways. You won’t find these in many places. In the 80s the private sector asked the government to talk to China about opening Tibet because we all saw good scope and it also creates opportunity for tourists to come to Nepal during May-September as that is the ideal time to go to Tibet.

Subodh: Firstly, we have to manage our highways because they are a mess. Chitwan has suffered a lot because of this mess and we have to change it. Second, we have to have proper connectivity when it comes to our domestic aviation, only if we get our domestic aviation to work effectively, we can dream about more tourists. And finally I along with that we also have to manage the transportation within the valley because the taxis aren’t feasible as they charge people ridiculous prices and the public transport isn’t something I’d like to talk about.