Badri Nepal was recently elected as the president of TURGAN and has started working for the welfare of tourist guides during the pandemic.
While the tourism industry around the globe is temporarily shut down due to COVID-19, Nepal has been no exception. Vaccination has not been effective, COVID rules are not properly followed or monitored and all this has only contributed in worsening the condition. Months long lockdown and no sign of revival has hurt the business hard. The most venerable ones are the small business owners and freelancers. While some professions have potential in other industries as well, tourist and trekking guides have been facing the ones to face some significant challenges. So, we sat down with Badri Nepal, the president of Tourist Guide Association of Nepal.
Badri Nepal was recently elected as the president of TURGAN and has started working for the welfare of tourist guides during the pandemic. Born in Dhading, Nepal got into the tourism industry in 1996. He worked as a trekking guide for 8 years and has been a tour guide since.
What is TURGAN upto these days?
There is nothing much to work on these days. Due to the COVID-19, almost all the guides are jobless. We have acknowledged that the break has been hard for them so we have been organizing various programs and refresher training to engage them. These are hard times, mentally and financially. We don't want them to lose the focus or shift to another profession. Tourism starts circulating only when the rest of the world is able to move. The environment is not yet set. Currently TURGAN is focused on various programs to encourage the guides and find ways to sustain them. We are also engaged in developing skills and preparing for the time when everything is in place.
Many guides are shifting their profession, do you see it as a threat to the already crumbling industry?
Yes, it is a major problem we have been dealing with. Even some developed nations are facing the same problems. There is no certainty in the revival of the business, so it is obvious to be insecure. Many of our fellow guides have changed the field of work but, we believe this is a temporary shift. We are expecting them to be back to business as soon as all this is over. The bigger problem is with those who have invested a lot of money in the industry. They have no business and can't just walk away. These are tough situations to deal with.
Could we have done anything better?
Post the first lockdown, we should have addressed their problems but we were not able to. There is very little we can do about this. We have to be dependent on the assistance provided by the government but the concerned authorities have not been of much help. The assistance provided did not reach the affected ones. We have been persuading the government officials for the effective plans. TURGAN has been raising the concern in various forums, we even met the Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation but little to nothing has been done about it yet.
How do you see the potential in domestic tourists ?
We have been seeking the possibilities of domestic tourism as well. A tour guide can walk you out of possible troubles and complications, make your tour more informative and fun. As the amount of high end domestic tourists is not in large numbers, guides are limited in school and educational tours.But domestic tourism is growing and so is the potential for tour guides. This pandemic could create paths to connect the guides and domestic tourists.
Various websites connect guides with clients directly, What do you think about the digital transformation in the guiding business?
The online platform has brought new possibilities along with challenges. This new trend of direct contact with tour guides has been introduced in the Nepali tourism industry in recent years. It is mostly popular among the new and young guides. But the old ones in the business are sticking with the agencies. This is mostly because they have been associated with these agencies for a long time. The business is safe, reliable and consistent. TURGAN has a specific remuneration rate, developed after the discussion with NATTA. It is hard for us to monitor the online business. This also brings the new problems of fake guides and unhealthy competition.
Do you see the new threat of the second wave and possible lockdowns?
Second wave is going to be way more devastating to everyone, not just the tourism industry. So, everyone is set to be badly hit by possible restrictions. But the reality is that we cannot create jobs, we can only facilitate to help them stay. If we look into the trends of new development of covid, it might stay for quite long. I was expecting the vaccines would make things normal but it doesn't seem to work as I thought. At Least a year for normal movement is sure to take and some more for getting back to normal.
Many tourism stakeholders have been suggesting to adapt sustainable post covid tourism in Nepal. How do you see the post covid tourism in Nepal?
We are in an open market and we should not forget that the pre covid mess was created by the competition among the business personals. The competition of profit is vicious. A travel agent may go for quality tourists but his competitor will see profit in quantity and jump in it. Unless the government steps on with regulations, I see no such changes happening any time soon.
There are numerous problems we have been facing. From a public bathroom to clean water, these problems are never going to boost quality tourism. High spending tourists don't want to visit dirty and unsafe destinations. We also have to solve the problems of fake guides. Though TURGAN is working in collaboration with tourist police, sometimes things get complicated and we get pressured from high levels. I believe we should solve the basic problems, make long term plans and only the nepali tourism industry will progress.
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