India key to revival of tourism in Nepal: NTB

Interview: Dhananjay Regmi, CEO, Nepal Tourism Board
/ New Delhi
India key to revival of tourism in Nepal: NTB

Dhananjay Regmi, CEO, Nepal Tourism Board (India Outbound photos)

As vaccination roll-out proceeds all over, Nepal Tourism Board has begun an aggressive marketing and business promotion and awareness campaign in key markets, including India. It hopes to have a sharp uptick in Indian tourists in the current year.
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After a hiatus of over a year, as overseas destinations begin to reopen their borders to Indian tourists, next-door neighbour Nepal joins the list. Though India is an important source market for dozens of countries, for Nepal it is critical, being the closest neighbour, a shared culture and of course the largest source market.

Thus, to revive the engagement with the agents and media, a high-powered delegation of Nepal Tourism Board is currently in India. Dhananjay Regmi, chief executive officer, NTB speaks to India Outbound about their plans for India market and their projections for 2021.

How badly has Nepal Tourism been hit since pandemic?

Like the rest of the world, tourism in Nepal also came to an absolute halt. Altogether we were losing NPR 7 billion every month. That is the total loss that the whole industry had to bear and there was almost no employment. People lost their jobs. The government schemes to help people provided some relief but that was not enough. Now, we have started to focus on domestic tourism. On the whole now the industry has fully opened up but very few foreign tourists are coming to Nepal. But because of the domestic tourism promotion, all the tourism destinations in Nepal are now opening. People are still getting some part of their salary, if not full. Once things resume on a normal basis, tourism will be back.

How is the revival looking like now?

As part of our revival plan, we focused on domestic tourism again. It is going good. For the first time Nepal realised the importance of the domestic tourists. In the past we were only focusing on the foreigners. We never usually talk about the huge potentiality of the Indian market also, which I am talking today. This was missing for a long time. So the pandemic has made us rethink in a new way and we have tried to identify a new market. I think now Nepal’s priority is going to change. And now we are not going to focus on what we used to focus on in the past and at the same time we need to change our brand image as well. Not as the kind of destination for a specific people or for the seasonal destination, but we want to promote Nepal as an all season destination and for people of all age groups at any time of the year.

Has traffic from India resumed and in what percentage?

Now we have every month 8,000-9,000 people visiting Nepal because we have limited flights. Out of these numbers, 80-90 pc are from India. Majority of the people who are visiting now as tourists are from India. So this shows, even if we open to the world, as a first priority we should focus on India because it is very close geographically as well as culturally. India is going to be the key market to get tourism back in Nepal. Now we have also opened travelling via roads.

The NTB press conference in New Delhi on March 23, 2021 (India Outbound photos)

What is your projection for 2021 from India and other key markets?

It depends on how many flights will be allowed. There are so many things this time, that we cannot make a prediction because it depends on the government level policies and the decisions that the government will take. So if government resumes all flights, minimum number of tourists that we had in the past was 250,000 in a year. So perhaps fewer people will come from across the world, but tourists from India will find easy and attractive destinations in Nepal. Their numbers can be doubled.

Another key market is China. But it is currently closed and we still don’t know when is it going to open. We are also looking at another destination where our national carrier Nepal Airlines is flying and that is Japan. But now Japan has also come up with stricter rules. At present we cannot say anything. But what we are focusing on is that first we are going to give main priority to India. Instead of focusing on Europe or America, we are going to focus on one stop destination. Two new airports are opening, one in Lumbini. It is going to give a new market, especially the Buddhism market. For that we have planned how to approach different countries where they have Buddhist population. However, first the airport has to start and secondly those countries need to open for Nepal.

Which segment is best poised to take off?

See now age specific packages are there. If people are over 60, who want to do pilgrimage, for them, there is not only Pashupati Nath temple, but there are other pilgrimages in Nepal which they can explore. For the youngsters who love nightlife there are a number of new clubs that have opened in Nepal. For those who love adventure, there are a number of adventurous activities, from rafting, paragliding, bungee jumping, trekking so many things are there that people can enjoy. And if someone is just looking for going to big luxurious hotels, for that also we have a number of options. It also depends on what kind of temperature do people love. If one loves warm weather, the Terai is there, if you like mild temperature, hills are there, if you enjoy cold temperatures then mountains are there. It again depends on the nature of the people whether they love nature or culture or adventure. So, we are pushing for a variety of things and let’s see who will choose what. It will take us some time to realise what Indian market is actually looking for.

You were talking about how to promote Ramayana circuit. So any particular strategy is there?

I was looking at a video on how the Ramayana circuit was going from here to all the way south and then coming back, but it wasn’t linked up with Nepal. So I think without linking Janakpur, that is the birthplace of Sita, how can you complete it. Also there is the place where Luv-Kush were born and grew up. We need to link all these destinations. Many people don’t know about these stories but we know that and we can help in forming a circuit. That will also help to enhance business between both countries.

We have already proposed this to the ministry of tourism in India. We have already invited the officials from Buddhist tourism in Bihar. Normally they should start from Buddha’s birthplace, then to where he got Nirvana. So it can be people come here, go to India, come back here again and from here they fly back. Or we can start vice versa. We had a number of talks on that. We decided to go with that package. The Nepali agents who are selling this package will focus on the Indian part and vice versa.

What are your objectives for this roadshow in India?

We especially came with 25 different agencies from Nepal to participate in SATTE. I don’t know how many countries are going to participate but I am sure that this year there are not going to be many countries. So it is a good opportunity for Nepal as India is also looking for destinations and there are only few destinations like Dubai, Maldives that are open. Now Nepal is open and Indians can take Nepal more seriously as a tourism destination. Therefore, I came with my team so that we can do some B2B meetings and promote Nepal as a destination.

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