The national tourism campaign, Visit Nepal 2020, was inaugurated on January 1 in the presence of national and international delegates at Dasharath Stadium. Amidst the support and criticism that the government has received it has claimed that the campaign will be successful in meeting the target of bringing two million tourists, which many consider a highly ambitious target. The government is also being criticised for lack of infrastructure and pouring money into trivial events. Against this backdrop, Arpana Ale Magar of The Himalayan Times caught up with Suraj Vaidya, coordinator of the campaign secretariat, to talk about the campaign’s targets and upcoming plans. Excerpts:
The inauguration ceremony of VN 2020, as per some people, was not as grand as envisaged earlier. Do you agree?
For me personally it was a grand success. There were inauguration events held across all seven provinces and not only in Kathmandu. This shows that the people have taken ownership of the campaign. And that for me is success as it shows that we are on the right track.
Participation of foreign delegates was not as expected, isn’t it?
It was wishful thinking on our part to expect as many foreign delegates as we had initially expected at that time of the year. Since people across the world celebrate Christmas and New Year at that time it is obvious that participation of foreigners would be low. However, the important aspect here is that the tourism ministers of India and China were present. This is significant because these countries have the largest outbound tourists. Tourism ministers from Myanmar and Jamaica also participated in the event. Myanmar is equally important for us as we are preparing to have a grand event for Buddha Jayanti this year and we are trying to get , a prominent leader of the country, here for the celebrations. Moreover, we also had 19 other senior delegates from foreign countries.
Some major announcements such as free visa for tourists were expected during the inauguration but that did not happen. Why is it so?
I have been informed that the government will soon launch some packages and I hope they do it soon. Meanwhile, the
private sector has introduced some discount packages for the duration of the campaign. All the tourism organisations including Hotel Association Nepal, Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents, Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal and Homestay Association of Nepal, among others have offered different discount packages for tourists.
What is the secretariat focusing on now that the campaign has been launched?
We will be focusing on marketing the campaign in the domestic and international market for the next three months. There are seven major lifetime experiences going to be held in all seven provinces. For instance, we will have events related to climate change with focus on Mount Everest in Province 1 and in Province 2 we will be hosting Vivah Panchami in Janakpur. Likewise, in Province 3 we will focus on spiritual tourism and in Gandaki Province we will be organising mountain biking along Kaligandaki, the world’s deepest gorge. In Lumbini Province we will be celebrating Buddha Jayanti and in Karnali Province we will be promoting the Rara Lake. Finally, in Sudurpaschim Province we will be hosting the world’s longest rafting along Karnali River.
It has been reported that the campaign is being promoted in the international market only through regular programmes of tourism associations and the secretariat has not done anything substantial. Is this true?
I wouldn’t agree with that statement. We are, in fact, coordinating with all stakeholders to promote the campaign. We are also working with a lot of international media and we will soon sign agreements with seven of the leading media houses in India to promote the campaign. We are coordinating with as many programmes as possible that are being held within the country and in the international market for VN 2020. We are also working with influencers and collaborating with large companies for MICE business. We have also been requesting the United Nations, World Bank and World Wildlife Fund to host their international conferences in Nepal. If that does materialise then we will have substantial number of visitors as around 500 to 600 people participate in each such conference and they are high spenders. Promotion is not only about offering services. It also includes appreciating those who have helped us in times of need and requesting them to visit again. We have already conducted such programmes in the UK, South Korea, India, China and Canada and will be organising more such events. We have also held meetings with our ambassadors posted in various countries across Asia and requested them to promote the campaign through their respective embassies. In fact, we will be holding the inauguration of VN 2020 in all our embassies on January 7. We also plan to conduct bigger marketing events in those destinations with whom we have direct flight connectivity.
Some are sceptical about the target of bringing in two million tourists in 2020. Is it achievable?
The ‘number’ is not the only priority of the campaign. There are other areas too we are focusing on. The campaign is not only for today but for tomorrow too. If we can attract 1.2 million tourists by promoting only Mt Everest, Annapurna region, Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan and Lumbini then imagine the number of travellers we can bring in by showcasing other destinations. It will be a futile exercise if we can bring in two million tourists in 2020 and the number drops immediately the next year. So, this campaign is actually like a platform to promote sustainable tourism in the country that will benefit the tourism sector in the long term. We are also looking at attracting sustainable investments in the tour