Dealing with cabbies at the Tribhuvan International Airport is a nightmarish experience for foreign visitors, who come to Nepal for different purposes, including trekking, mountaineering, whitewater rafting, sightseeing, cultural tours, paragliding, heli-skiing and more. It appears that these people are there only to make a fast buck from the guests, not to welcome the travellers.
In their desperate bid to earn at the expense of travellers, taxi drivers do not care about anything, including first impressions about Nepal they will leave behind in the mind of visitors. Worst still, law enforcement does not seem that bothered about harassment facing tourists, who we consider as gods and who have heard a lot about Nepal’s ever-smiling people, their good nature and once-in-a-lifetime experience that the country offers. This leads people to suspect if something fishy is going on at the cost of national image.
Indeed, first impressions last forever. And this is not the kind of impression that we want to leave behind in the tourists’ mind, for we have the slogan Naturally Nepal, Once is Not Enough. After facing this kind of harassment, will tourists want to visit this exotic land of diverse natural heritages, nationalities, jatras, ancient architectural heritages, the Everest and other majestic peaks, and the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, Krakkuchhanda Buddha and Kanakmuni Buddha time and time again? Will the very first bitter experience not kill the thrill of their Nepal visit?
If the government and other stakeholders are indeed serious about attracting foreign visitors, they must do everything to make the arrival at the TIA a memorable experience.
At a time when the United Nations World Tourism Organisation has estimated the number of Chinese tourists to reach 100 million by the end of 2015, our activities do not seem geared towards attracting even a fraction of this crowd in our wonderland. On the contrary, we seem to be killing the industry with our self-decimating games.
Let us take, for example, the April 18 Everest avalanche and the protest against corruption at the Nepal Tourism Board.
With the avalanche killing more than a dozen experienced high-altitude Sherpas and many teams cancelling their Everest expeditions in its wake, the country has suffered a huge loss this mountaineering season. In the aftermath of the disaster, the government seemed utterly incapable in minimising the impact of the tragedy in the country’s tourism industry. This is an utterly uninspiring story for tourists, who have seen countries like Switzerland making huge money out of their mountains.
Worst still, instead of working to minimise the impact of the Everest tragedy, tour operators launched a protest seeking the resignation of a senior Nepal Tourism Board official for his alleged involvement in corruption. This protest could not have come at a worse time. One way or the other, we played at the hands of those interests that probably wanted expeditions diverted from Nepal at the peak of its mountaineering season.
The tour operators, the NTB and the Tourism Ministry should have sorted out the matter through talks instead of engaging in blame-game. Self-defeating activities like this will obliterate the tourism industry of Nepal, perched between two major tourist attractions -- China and India.
Let’s hope problems at the NTB come to an end soon, the tourism body starts doing what it is supposed to do – promote tourism and not corruption – and Nepal Airlines Corporation procures planes that fly.
No doubt, our guests deserve better than fleecing cabbies, a dysfunctional NTB, a perennially grounded NAC and private tour operators, who, through their protests, appeal tourists not to visit Nepal, however sacred their cause may be.
(Gautam is a freelance journalist.)