The South Asian region, despite home to some of the most unique products and experiences has failed to attract tourists in numbers it ought to have. The way forward is a cumulative strategy of promotion of destinations, in a joint effort, by nations involved in the fray, suggests Deepak Joshi, CEO, Nepal Tourism. Excerpts from his keynote address on “perspective for regional tourism”.
We all know that tourism is one of the few sectors in the world which is ever-increasing, in terms of numbers and employment creation. So, in that term we are going through a very strong context, in terms of tourism. Last year, we know that our number crossed a billion, globally. Over 1.2 billion travellers visited all over the world in 2015 itself – which means one in every sixth person, on an average, is a tourist. I think that ratio is coming down every day. I would like to share some talk my friend shared some 6-7 days ago. He was telling me that kids are becoming independent traveller now, because 50-60 years ago our schools used to be typical schools only. Kids used to take food from home and study in the school. Some 20 years ago, schools started boarding facility and then serving food – and schools ventured into a new business; we can call it accommodation and restaurant also. Now, students are taking foreign internships in these schools, so schools are now in to the tour business, as well. So, I mean everyone is going to become a tourist. That is the future and we have to be prepared for that.
Another issue, when we talk about the region is that no other region has that kind of potential, looking at the products that we have. We all are experienced people and therefore, I would not like to explain these. Being the Himalaya region, there are over 14 peaks with height of over 8,000 meters in the world, and all of those are in this region – in the South Asian region. Not only that, thousands of languages are spoken in this region.
When we talk about Nepal, for instance, the lowest point of earth is at 50 meters and highest is at 8848 metres, and that is just between 100 kilometres of distance. That kind of diversity, I think, we can hardly get anywhere in the world. Such is the product strength that we have.
Another thing in the business that we are told is that there must be a market for the product. We do have such a market and an emerging economy, all of it is there. Timing is right, too. So, product, timing and market, all of it is perfect in this region. Despite having so much of strength and good timing, we have not been able to reap the benefits that our destinations deserve, or the kind of expectations that we have in this region. May be, it is because we are ignoring the changing trends in the world, what we very rightly discussed. In this part of the world, we take more time in discussing, rather than understanding things and changes in trends. So, I think, in this region, we need to focus seriously on what the changes are and how we can address them. There are many things that are changing in my observation.
From 1960s to 2010, there was a particular trend in tourism – fixed itineraries, packages – but since the last 6-7 years, it has really changed. I think we have already realised that fact. Earlier, segment wise, we talked of new segments, millennials, who are digitally connected more than ever. We are phono-sapiens more than homo-sapiens. There have been changes on the product side, too. Earlier, we used to debate on OTAs vs. tour operators. These days, yes, customers are looking for customised packages, rather than traditional packages. They are going for, for instance in Kathmandu, we have Kathmandu-Pokhra-Chitwan triangle, and in India, too, we have the golden triangle, but now tourists, instead of opting of the Red Fort are going for streets in Old Delhi. So, that kind of openness is also there, in terms of queries. I believe it is an opportunity of us, but we need to understand what kind of trends are there for us. There is also a change in the trend of looking for local destinations. Earlier, people used to look for very sophisticated destinations, but now we can see, in Malaysia, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, rapid growth of tourism, because tourists are looking for very undiscovered places where their parents or friends have not been to.
Earlier, the industry used to look for comfort and luxury, but now, people are looking for experiences, and the strength of product that we have in this region is the future of tourism. That is a perfect match, that is why I was highlighting the perfect timing.
This is the land where thousands of authentic stories are. So, these are these things that when we talk about regional tourism perspective. I would also like to highlight some of the issues pertaining to regional tourism. We are very connected countries and yet disconnected when it comes to selling our products jointly.
Everything is becoming easy these days. Hotel booking, travel and ticket booking, but people are looking for easy travel in terms of getting visas or cross-border entries. When we talk about regional tourism, we must look at jointly lobbying for these kinds of things.
Another change in the trend is that 200-300 years ago, our political governance and leadership used to be of religious in nature. After that, we experienced military leadership all over the world, followed by democratic leadership, but now we are seeing everywhere the growth of business leadership. So, for sustainable development of tourism, we have to look at the balance of bringing our religious and spiritual values into our business values.
If we can do a few things, moving ahead, we can see positive result in tourism in this region. We need not create many new products, because there is so much here already, but we need to curate, communicate and collaborate more.
We, very recently, organised the Himalayan Travel Mart, presenting Nepal as a gateway to the Himalayas. Like Navin Ji is organising very soon, BITB, and other travel fairs…may be, different regions can curate different kinds of activities. May be, there could be a Yoga Travel Mart, or something like that. So, more such kinds of events can benefit this region.
A thing about tourism is that while other manufacturing segments and industries dislocate communities, tourism industry, probably, is the only industry which interlinks and integrates communities. Where tourism integrates communities, why cannot it integrate a region? So, I would like to request all of my friends in our fraternity to work jointly for this. Earlier, we discussed about common visas in African countries, or other regions. It is something that we can also develop, because sometimes I feel that we have undermined our brand-value, in terms of our destinations. For example, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, and some of the regions of India have a very strong brand-value. We should capitalise on these, rather than undermining them.
At last, I would like to request all to go together, grow together and gain together. Tourism is ours and we are for tourism.