January 30, 2020
The campaign target should be revised in view of the coronavirus outbreak and a certain drop in arrivals.
As we prepare to enter the second month of Visit Nepal 2020, it is becoming clear that the ongoing campaign is unlikely to meet its target due to crises like the coronavirus pandemic and Gulf turmoil. According to the latest reports, the heady scenario of the past few years has changed markedly with the arrivals growth rate sinking to less than 3 percent in 2019. This suggests that the shallow display of pomp and fanfare during the inauguration of Visit Nepal Year have become inconsequential. Moreover, nothing dissimilar from the routine celebration of World Tourism Day or Constitution Day was seen during the campaign’s launch.
The first four weeks of the campaign, which took months of preparation, gives a good confirmation that it has been unsuccessful in stimulating any excitement in the tourism industry, in or outside the country. Given such a start, there is an urgent need for the robust leadership at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation to reflect, review and correct the execution model of the campaign, and also rope in divergent professionals of any political hue.
The area that needs urgent attention is the Visit Nepal Year Secretariat. The secretariat has struggled to engage with local, national or international tourism stakeholders. This has severely limited its effectiveness in telling international visitors why they should visit Nepal this year.
One of the principal destination promotional instruments used by such mega campaigns is holding major events in the source markets. For example, when Scotland celebrated its Year of Homecoming in 2014, it organised more than 1,000 events during the campaign, and hosted some big sporting events such as the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and the biggest golfing tournament, the Ryder Cup. Malaysia celebrated Visit Malaysia Year 2020 with almost 200 events. The Visit Nepal 2020 website shows less than 20 events for the whole campaign year, and many of them are of no interest to general visitors.
The secretariat has failed to establish contact with the hundreds of events held in different parts of the country. This is possibly because it did not have the institutional outreach and capacity to engage with local or provincial stakeholders as effectively as any other permanent body would have. A good example of its inexperience became visible when it mistakenly used a Thai image in one of its posters released in London last year. Much of the international promotion has been happening through events organised at the Nepal embassies which are mostly attended by non-resident Nepalis, with the nominal presence of the diplomatic community of the host country. Such events are utterly useless for tourism promotion.
Creating a separate secretariat for the campaign was flawed and done without proper consultation. When Visit Nepal 1998 was planned, it needed a secretariat because there was no organisation to bring the tourist industry’s ownership into the campaign. But now a permanent promotional body, the Nepal Tourism Board, is in existence which has the same task as the secretariat.
Though the board does have its own share of limitations, there are allegations from the private sector that it lacks a broad national outlook and is mostly inward-looking. The heavy presence of government officials on the board has made the role of the CEO a mere government sycophant instead of a vibrant pro-private sector leader. Despite such challenges, the Nepal Tourism Board is a well-functioning tourism promotional agency that has vast experience and proficiency in international tourism promotion. But now it is competing with the Visit Nepal Year Secretariat to run the show.
In the last few days, Nepali tourism has witnessed some major incidents that has drawn both regional and international attention: Tourists going missing on the Annapurna trekking route and the tragic death of tourists at a hill resort in Daman. They expose the vulnerability of visiting the Nepali countryside. The coronavirus outbreak in China is likely to limit the growth in arrival numbers from China and elsewhere. There is an urgent need to redirect promotional efforts from China to other countries that could compensate for the loss of visitors from China. This can only be achieved by a body that has the experience of dealing with such situations in the past.
In the above situation, it is unlikely that the aim of Visit Nepal can be achieved even if there is a change in the existing dispensation. The ministry has two options now: Use the crisis created by the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse for not achieving the campaign target or revise the campaign target and strive to readjust the institutional arrangement to achieve it. A more judicious option for a pragmatic leadership would be to choose the second alternative. This will help save the current leadership at the ministry from the blame of mishandling the campaign and taking it to the brink of the biggest disaster and embarrassment for the Oli administration.