BIBHU CHAND THAKUR is the Chairman of PATA Nepal Chapter. A seasoned tourism entrepreneur he has been actively involved with PATA for many years in various capacities.
In an interview with Terence Lee, he shared his views and involvement on Nepal’s road to recovery from COVID 19 for the industry. Excerpts:
Now with the easing of restrictions on travel and movement in Nepal what is the road ahead for the industry? What important things should we be concentrating on in the present situation?
As this pandemic is yet to be contained and still in the upward rising trend, we must be extra cautious and careful in every aspect!
Of course, the easing of the lockdown and resumption of travel and tourism businesses is indeed welcome; however, these are challenging times to the whole world and first and foremost, we must understand that tourism recovery process needs to be steady and gradual, as we are obliged to manage so many safety and security protocols right from the very beginning due to COVID-19 crisis, which understandably requires quite some time to come back to normal as before.
We must maintain calm, stay vigilant, and embrace the changes to move ahead. To tackle these unprecedented challenges, we need to adopt unprecedented measures!
I would say the 4S Strategy - Safety, Security, Sanity, and Survival, is the need and priority of the hour. We are encouraging our members and friends to put further emphasis on the following 4 opportunities we have for moving forward:
1. Domestic and Regional Tourism
2. Digital Transformation or, Digital Technology
3. Safety and Security (4 S Strategy)
4. Training and Retraining under the New Norms
More than ever, we also need to work together with a common voice to “build back better” a more resilient and sustainable tourism in our nation.
International and domestic flights are now being allowed. How should we plan to restart tourism? What are some of the protocols and things that could help restart tourism along with maintaining safety?
The restart of the aviation sector (for both international and domestic scheduled flights) is the foundation or, the doorway to the recovery of tourism. Maintaining a high level of health and safety measures is going to be a primary concern for both travelers and service providers.
For this, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), in collaboration with the private sectors, has developed the “Health and Safety Protocols (HHS)” for tourism businesses. We also have the HHS protocols recommended by Global leading tourism organizations including UNWTO, PATA International, WTTC, WHO, and others.
Building traveler's confidence and having all the safety and hygiene protocols in place are fundamental at this critical moment. We have to focus on the effective implementation of protocols, which further needs to be fully backed by an effective monitoring and control mechanism.
But, as “tourism recovery” at large is not sufficient with these minimal efforts, we need to have a Comprehensive Recovery Action Plan, which will further recommend immediate, short term, and long-term priorities and course of actions to achieve our mission of tourism recovery in a more resilient and sustainable manner.
Do you think enough interaction is taking place between the authorities and the industry on steps to slowly restart tourism? What are the major suggestions from the tourism industry?
Initially, we were all unknown and unaware about the impact and characteristic of this devastating COVID-19 virus and were suggesting various measures from our own respective sectors. After having closely monitored all the efforts and discussions held in the past, we have now realized that all tourism stakeholders in the public and private sectors must put aside all differences and unite to work together with an integrated and collaborative approach.
Realizing this urgency to foster highly focused immediate priorities, concrete strategy, and a result-oriented action plan to Survive – Revive – Thrive or to bounce back better from the adverse impact of the COVID-19, a Tourism Recovery Task Force (TRTF) - Nepal initiative has been taken-up.
This task force is jointly sprouted by PATA Nepal Chapter and SKAL Nepal; for bringing industry veterans, professionals, and leading global tourism organizations as Advisors; prominent tourism associations of Nepal as Associational Patrons, key agencies / organizations working in safety and security of travelers as Health and Safety Patrons, and the NTO, Nepal Tourism Board as the main Industry Patron.
These will help intensify our collective efforts for the recovery of our tourism industry.
Do you think we are in a position to have international tourists by mid-Oct or end of 2020? For that what measures do we need to start taking?
Our government has officially decided to permit Trekking and Mountaineering activities for foreign visitors from October 17, 2020. The mountains, trekking routes, and national parks in Nepal being naturally isolated clear the way for tourism activities to resume again with all the necessary health and safety protocols in place.
The recent arrival to Nepal by Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain, with his expedition team is indeed an inspiration and stimulus to mountaineers and nature lovers around the world who are seeking to rejuvenate themselves in Naturally Nepal!
We, thus, anticipate having some international arrivals for the coming season which would be an encouraging factor towards recovery if we could align and position our marketing and destination management systems to appealing to tourists. Of course we must prepare ourselves and be capable of enhancing travelers' confidence.
A lot has been said about domestic tourism? What kind of potential do you see in domestic tourism in the next few months?
We may have to reconsider a bit before jumping directly into international tourism and depending on it for recovery and as such we may need to start with our own domestic travelers.
It is without doubt that we have undermined domestic tourism over the years in Nepal. If you look at most successful destinations in Europe and China, they are dominated by domestic tourists. These destinations are generating 70 percent revenue from domestic travelers.
Even if it may not have a huge contribution to the country's balance of payment, domestic tourism, of course, would be very helpful to keep businesses alive and help somehow with the recovery. Without doubt, we Nepalis spend a lot on food, drinks, and entertainment. So, we must encourage our very own nationals and take promotion initiatives for domestic tourism.
While mobilizing Domestic tourist movements, and once the circumstances are eased and favorable, we should start Regional Tourism with Tourism Bubbles, Green Corridors, and Corona Resilient Zones (CRZ).
Following this, International Tourism would restart with convincing control over the spread of COVID-19 and bilateral understanding and consent among countries to reopen Air Services.
Talking about the possibility of domestic movement at the moment, people in major cities might be desperate to travel with intrinsic motivation and enforcement due to the lengthy lock down of six months.
So, we need to have campaigns and incentives to encourage our Nepali people to visit different alluring destinations within Nepal. Through TRTF-Nepal initiative, we will soon be launching DeshDarshan - the domestic tourism promotion campaign, to stimulate domestic tourism. Under this campaign, we will make promotional videos, safety awareness materials, thoughtful discussions, insightful webinars, and necessary training programs to support domestic tourism!
Many tourism companies, hotels, airlines have been destroyed by the pandemic and are not yet opened or plan not to open. What kind of assistance if any is the tourism industry requesting from the government to kick start tourism again?
The government's role is very crucial for the survival of businesses, and as a source of revenue for the nation. Our government announced some relief funds, but how it is going to be distributed or facilitated in the hands of needy businesses / human resources is still a question.
However, through the TRTF-Nepal initiative, we shall request government and decision-making authorities to support the industry with some fundamental policies and structural changes to boost responsible tourism recovery.
Does PATA have any figures or estimates on the kind of losses the industry has faced and how do we cope with these huge challenges facing us?
We all need to agree that there is not enough research and an effective database management system in Nepal to assess the accuracy in statistics about the tourism sector.
According to the WTTC (2019), the Travel and Tourism sector supported Nepal's economy with 6.7 percent GDP contribution, about 1.1 million direct employment opportunities, and a 30.8 percent of total export earnings via visitors' spending.
However, we can assume that the Industry has lost about 90 percent of estimated revenue for the entire calendar year of 2020.
The entire tourism sector, whether hotels, airlines, travels, trekking companies, adventure and tour operators, SMEs, and other secondary industries related to the tourism industry, are suffering and facing different problems in each of our respective businesses. We are all aware of the SWOT features tourism in Nepal. Now, rather than inducing many ideas and plunging into anxiety due to the challenges of crisis, we invite all industry friends and stakeholders to join hands together and emphasize joint efforts towards tourism recovery at large!
Since all destinations will be starting from scratch. What do you think our marketing strategy should be? Has the industry been in talks with NTB or making any suggestions on destination promotion and marketing? What message needs to be sent at the moment?
As I mentioned earlier, we have formed the Tourism Recovery Task Force – Nepal (TRTF-N) with a group of tourism professionals, authorities, and thought leaders in the public and private sector with the patronage of Nepal Tourism Board to counsel, promote, and undertake necessary initiatives towards a rapid, robust, and responsible recovery of tourism in Nepal from the impact of COVID-19.
We shall be suggesting our inputs and feedbacks on marketing and other recovery strategies through the taskforce.