Nepal has been a popular tourist destination for decades. But it has been placed on equal footing now since domestic tourism also has become noteworthy. Domestic tourism is an idea that is slowly picking up in Nepal, given the implications it has for the nation, it is a pity that Nepal is only just beginning to pay attention to it.
Sarad Pradhan, Media Consultant at Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), defines domestic tourism as “any activities confined within a country that involve tourist activities for which people leave their residences for more than a 24-hour period.” These “tourist activities” may include bungee jumping, rafting, trekking or visiting popular in-country destinations like Nagarkot, Dhulikhel, Lumbini or Pokhara. Visiting family or making business trip do not count in this category.
Yogendra Shakya, Coordinator of Nepal Tourism Year 2011 (NTY ’11), expands on Pradhan’s definition by adding “those who live in the country including expats.” Given the definition, it is clear to see that a lot of Nepalis have been taking part in the tourism industry but without realizing they were being tourists.
Part of the reason Nepalis have failed to identify their role as a “tourist” has to do with how tourists and the tourism industry have been understood thus far. Starting in the mid-1950s, Nepali tourism began to pick up with the Thomas Cook groups coming to Kathmandu, and then expeditions arrived to scale Nepal’s Himalayan peaks. Branching off those, other options such as cultural sightseeing in the Kathmandu Valley, scenic visits to the Lake District in Pokhara, rafting and kayaking trips on the Trishuli that led to the jungle safari resorts in Chitwan, and adventure sports - all found themselves catering to diverse tourists.
For the most part, Nepalis found these activities exclusive to visitors, and according to Shakya, natives of Nepal went as far as believing that places like five-star hotels were not for them. This misunderstanding and misrepresentation of tourism led to unfortunate sequences of events, ending in Nepalis discriminating against their own people.
It is not uncommon, therefore, to hear of Nepalis getting the backseat when it comes to services, be it getting a seat on a plane, nicer rooms in hotels or even in being served first in restaurants. When asked why this is the case, Shakya explained that this behavior is rooted in two things. First, Nepali culture takes exceptional care of guests and therefore offers the best to foreigners but fellow Nepalis are not viewed as “guests.” The other factor being, as Shakya says, “People are under the impression that foreigners mean more money. Even if the price is the same, people think foreigners will tip more.”
Pradhan agrees and adds that people are also not educated enough to think otherwise.
Lila Bahadur Baniya, Manager at the Sustainable Tourism Development Unit at NTB, claims that discrimination is limited to the Sagarmatha region and that Nepali people are not subject to poorer services in tourist places like Pokhara, Chitwan, or Palpa. To properly address this, a meeting is scheduled to take place in December or January 2010 between the NTB and the Sagarmatha Tourism Forum. The two main points on the agenda are fixing prices for Nepali tourists, and discussing how to minimize, if not eliminate, discrimination against domestic travelers.
So far, there is nothing directly addressing the bias. Shakya suggests, “If you find you aren’t being given fair treatment, voice your concern. If you tell the waiter or the floor staff, you can educate others on how equal treatment is necessary.”
Shakya also believes that this issue will diminish and resolve itself over time as Nepali tourists increase, and people understand that tourism is not limited to Caucasians alone.
Pradhan believes domestic tourism is on the rise due to factors like more accessibility via air and land, more disposable income, and Nepalis traveling internationally, thus giving them the desire to explore domestically as well.
“Young people are more outgoing,” Shakya adds. With the increase in local tourists, more benefits accrue which positively affect the entire nation.
If domestic tourism gains momentum, it will give people skills as well as means of generating income. That will get the ball rolling to improving the economy.
However, Kashi Rajbhandari, Director of Research, Planning, and Monitoring at NTB,
says, “Domestic tourism is not legally defined, and getting the process worked out accordingly takes time.”
In other words, Nepal understand how domestic tourism can affect the nation, but trying to change policies is something that takes the back burner in light of other impending issues, such as the Constituent Assembly’s formalities and other matters the government is giving priority to. Such is the present state of affairs in Nepal.
Shakya has no data to back up his theory, but he brings a crucial point to light. “Domestic tourism can be the cushion for Nepali economy in times of crises.” According to him, Nepal would have fared better during the civil war that started in 1996 if domestic tourism had been established then.
“The issue was that tourism focused on foreigners, and with the war, there was a decrease in number of arrivals, their length of stay and money spent.” All of which led to businesses shutting down and there being massive nationwide losses. “So if we can properly establish domestic tourism, we can prevent that kind of economic losses,” he adds.
In conclusion, Rajbhandari sums up the future of domestic tourism by saying, “There’s the general understanding that the demand is there. We just need to overcome the legal hurdles. In sum, the future of Nepal’s domestic tourism is very bright.”
Amidst all the hype to usher foreign tourists to Visit Nepal 2011 Shreya Thapa brings up a very valid angle - local tourists! Thapa has written thoughtfully and raised a solid point, once again. How is Nepal to speak highly of their country, if they haven´t traveled beyond the valley? Can we really gloat about Mt. Everest if we don´t consider trekking at all? Here´s to Nepalis exploring Nepal 2011!