Pragya Raj Sapkota is the general manager of E-Tour Channel.com, a new but recognised travel company handling luxurious clients. Sapkota has joined the tourism sector since 1999 undergoing a tourist guide training from the then Hotel Management and Tourism Training Centre (HMTTC). Prior to joining E-Tour Channel, Sapkota worked with various travel companies such as Nebuti Travels and Sita World Travels.
Born in 1972 in Chitwan, Sapkota is among few well-trained hands in the Nepalese tourism sector. He completed his Masters of Tourism Studies (MTS) from Kathmandu Academy of Tourism & Hospitality (KATH) College in 2006.
The promising and active tour operator talked to Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal on different issues concerning the country’s tourism sector: Excerpts:
How do you see the present situation of the country’s tourism industry?
The tourism business has been moving towards a positive direction. It is encouraging to note that tourist arrivals to the country soared by about 22 per cent in 2011 as compared to the previous year. I think, the ongoing peace process in the country deserves the credit for such a remarkable growth. The efforts made by individual companies towards tourism marketing and promotion have also contributed immensely to the revival of the tourism sector.
Apart from this, the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 (NTY 2011) was helpful for boosting this sector. Although the national tourism campaign could not meet its target of bringing in one million tourists, it played a vital role in changing the previous negative perception of the international community towards Nepal as an exotic tourism destination. The event has conveyed a message to the international arena that the country has now become a happening destination and the visiting tourists have not been facing any difficulty here.
Our company’s business also grew considerably. We are hopeful that the business will keep growing during this year as well.
How has your company become successful in expanding the business within a short period?
One of the reasons is that we offer something different to our clients. We also have adopted the strategy of exploring the major tourist generating countries in various parts of the world. We do not get involved with any unhealthy business practice. This means we do not try to grab the business of other companies. There are more than 1,500 travel companies in operation in the country.
We identify the potential markets and establish relations with those agents who have yet to sell Nepal but are interested in doing so. We organise familiarisation trips for them to Nepal and make them familiar with all the tourism products available here. We empower and encourage them to include Nepal in their itineraries.
Besides, we have begun handling backpackers as well. Such clients explore various parts of the country and promote them through their words of mouth. They contribute to bringing in deluxe clients, as they share their experiences with their friends and relatives. They have explored such places where neither the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) nor other agencies have reached. We can find a lot of such tourists highlighting Nepal through the facebook and other social media. In my opinion, the government should come up with a plan to give incentives to such visitors by not charging entrance fees.
I think, the word-of-mouth promotion is the most effective way of highlighting any destination. At present, we receive a lot of recommended clients. We hope to get many more even in the days ahead.
The government has announced the Visit Lumbini Year 2012 (VLY 2012) and the Tourism Vision 2020 in order to give a boost to the country’s tourism sector.
This is a good initiative. But what is lacking is the infrastructural development in the country. We do not have good road transportation system. Domestic air network is also not very satisfactory.
The country’s only international airport—Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA)—has been getting congested. The facilities and services at this airport are not up to the mark.
The government has aimed to attract 2 million international tourists annually by 2020. This means we will receive about 5,479 tourists per day and we need 182 big buses for handling them. If we take those tourists to the sightseeing spots like the Kathmandu Durbar Square and Swayambhunath, we do not have sufficient parking spaces.
Under the heading of conservation fee, the sightseeing spots charge fees from tourists. But we cannot find such amounts being utilised for the same purpose. It is also sad to mention that the most essential facilities like toilets are not available even in the sightseeing spots. The garbage of the Kathmandu Valley has not been managed properly. This is really a matter of shame for all of us.
Another negative tendency is that when the inflow of tourists starts increasing, hoteliers raise room tariffs. Instead of increasing tariffs, they need offer additional facilities and services for which they could make extra charges.
How have you assessed the government’s policies related to tourism?
Many of such policies are not very practicable. In Nepal, about 20 per cent companies have controlled almost 80 per cent of the total business. Those who are in minority seem to have influenced the policies.
We are lucky enough to have the number one tourism products. But our existing policies are insufficient to manage such products. If we look at the tourism itineraries being sold by most of the tour operators, they are classical. We need to diversify this sector by offering incentives to entrepreneurs.
Despite being a multi-faceted sector, tourism in Nepal has yet to create benefits for the farmers and the rural people. This industry will flourish only when such people feel that it is their industry.
We need to bring the TIA into operation for 24 hours. A lot of international tourists coming to Kathmandu via New Delhi have been facing difficulties in the absence of flights during the night.
The government needs to focus on producing well-trained manpower required for this tourism sector. The government should think of protecting the country’s tourism products even for the generations to come.