For an economy that has come to rely heavily on unsustainable remittance income (which currently account for 23 percent of GDP), tourism could offer a more sustainable alternative. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the non-profit global business leaders’ forum for travel and tourism, the total contribution of tourism sector to Nepal’s GDP was 8.8 percent in 2011. At the current trend, the world body forecasts the contribution to go up to 9.5 percent of GDP by 2022. Likewise, according to WTTC, travel and tourism and other related activities employed 7.7 percent of total Nepali workforce in 2011; it forecasts the figure to rise to 8.3 percent by 2022. There is a good chance that these forecasts will be met (or even bettered), but there is also a decent chance that things might go badly wrong.
Sadly, politics continues to drive the country’s tourism agenda. This is the reason that six months after the council of ministers decided on recognizing the tourism sector as a national priority industry, there have been no further developments on this front. The special status bestowed on the sector, tourism entrepreneurs believe, would contribute a great deal to boost the country’s tourism potential. If the recommendations of tourism entrepreneurs were to come into force, tax and customs duty discounts would be offered for tourism and aviation related businesses; they would be eligible for concessions on electricity bills and special facilities to lease land to attract foreign investment. Other prominent recommended measures were upgrading of Pokhara and Bhairahawa airports to international standards and formulation of tourism-friendly rules and regulations. The recognition of tourism as a national priority industry is important in the backdrop of constant political instability. If tourism is given the status of a priority sector, bandhs and other disruptions of tourism-related activities could be banned.
There have been failures on other fronts too. One is the long delay in the appointment of CEO of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), which is tasked with the responsibility of promoting the country in domestic and international arenas, once again owing to disagreements between political parties. This unholy mixing of politics with one of the country’s most vital sectors must be broken. Besides this, the new locations identified by NTB as potential tourist destinations, but which have so far been largely ignored, must be promoted. The scope for growth in the already saturated tourist markets like Kathmandu and Pokhara is very limited. With the right plans and policies to cash in on the country’s favorable international image, the optimistic WTTC forecasts can still be improved upon.
Lonely Planet, the largest travel guide book publisher in the world, recently recommended Nepal as among the best and most affordable trekking destinations in the world for 2013. Clearly, the potential is huge, but in order to capitalize on it, once again, the political class has to get its act right. The country, to its credit, has managed to pull in tourists from all over the globe even in these times of great political uncertainties. If things improve on this front, sky is the limit for Nepal’s tourism sector