‘Relief package for tourism business is limited to paper, I am disappointed’ : NTB Director Regmi
For Dhananjay Regmi, becoming the Executive Director (CEO) of the Nepal Tourism Board at this time has been unfortunate. Regmi, who became the CEO after defeating ten competitors with an ambitious plan to make Visit Nepal Year 2020 a success, fell victim to the global COVID-19 pandemic as soon as he took over.
COVID-19 had severe impact on the world economy, with the tourism sector being hardest hit. 12 lakh tourists used to visit Nepal every year, but now that number is zero and it is certain that this trend will continue for some time. Regmi plans to revive the collapsed tourism industry and promote domestic tourism, but this will not be possible without the government’s support.
Even though Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai, who appointed Dhananjay Regmi has now left the government, Regmi has high expectations from new Tourism Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal. As Yogesh and Bhanubhakta are leaders of the same generation and with the same political ideology, Regmi seems to be trying to uplift the tourism industry with the new Tourism Minister.
Below is the conversation that Pavitra Dhakal from Nepal Press had with Regmi, CEO of Tourism Board on Nepal Talk.
The tourism sector has suffered the most due to COVID-19. What is the Tourism Board doing now to revive it?
Tourism business has dropped to zero due to COVID-19. The board is focused on how to save this industry. At present, we have no basis to protect the tourism business, other than to expect government support.
It is certain that the arrival of foreign tourists will not happen for a few years. Therefore, the only way to save Nepal’s tourism business now is to promote domestic tourism.
Large funds are needed to revive the tourism business. In addition, the government should provide concessional loans to tourism business owners and entrepreneurs. The government has been repeatedly talking about setting up a fund for tourism entrepreneurs from concessional loans but this has not been implemented yet. Assurance only on paper does not amount to much. Contextually, hope cannot be placed solely on the government now. For this, the tourism entrepreneurs themselves will have to unite and move forward. At present, the Tourism Board and the private sector have been working together on how to raise tourism business.
The government still has not allowed many tourism businesses to operate. These businesses should come into operation to attract foreign tourists, who will visit only after receiving the message that tourism businesses are in operation. How do tourists come without businesses being run?
This is why we have prepared a working procedure on how to take the tourism industry forward and sent it to the Council of Ministers through the Ministry. This includes a lot of information on tourism activities like rafting, operating a high mountain lodge, running a night business, operating a spa, etc. Similarly, we have also provided suggestions to the government on how these businesses can be run by adopting security measures during the COVID-19 period.
It is certain that foreign tourists will not arrive for a few years in Nepal. Therefore, the only way to save Nepal’s tourism business now is to promote domestic tourism, which is our only choice. The Tourism Board is now focusing on the promotion of domestic tourism.
For this, the Tourism Board is carrying out street festivals, various trips, taking tourists from one place to another and carrying out promotional activities. Our emphasis now is on increasing domestic tourism, which is what the tourism board is currently engaged in.
Speaking of promoting domestic tourism, the COVID pandemic is not over. Experts say that Corona has a new face now. Half the world is still in lockdown. Amidst this situation, would domestic tourists go out to travel?
It is a well-known fact that the pandemic is not over in Nepal. However, we can now get out safely by adopting all the safety measures. Cities and villages are not closed or locked. Officials of the Tourism Board are currently visiting various places to promote domestic tourism. There is no security threat anywhere. However, all protocols for security have to be adopted. Hotels and restaurants have been opened everywhere, by following safety measures.
This is really the best time to visit the country. Tourist sites are not as crowded as they used to be and people can walk around without fear. Similarly, the costs of facilities provided by hotels and restaurants have reduced to half. Airlines and vehicle tickets are also cheaper. If this is not the perfect time to travel, when is it? Please move outside and enjoy the country. This is a good time to travel with family.
In fact, the number of domestic tourists in Nepal is not low. In the past, the number of people going out of Nepal seemed to be around 12 lakhs. Similarly, around 12 lakhs foreign tourists had also come to Nepal. If these previously outbound tourists can be encouraged to travel within the country, the tourism industry can be uplifted even in the current situation.