I love Nepal and I want them to recover and thrive after their earthquake, but…..
warning: this is not a neat blog. I know it’s disjointed but I’m publishing it anyway. It’s thinking out loud.
Nepal is desperate to bring back the tourists, and I keep seeing short promotional videos, usually testimonials from some European woman with a lip piercing and she says how safe she feels in Nepal. Or a hotel manager.
I myself have joined the call – I published a blog telling all the docs and nurses that yes-indeed they should visit Nepal. Problem is, I am not a good example to follow… I love Nepal and I was already used to the way things operate here. A first-timer might take a look around and get back on the plane. Nepal is not an easy first Asian country and Kathmandu is not an easy first Asian city…. (like Singapore or Kyoto or Seoul would be).
The appeal based on “it’s not as dangerous as it looks” isn’t going to do it. Even if all of us who love Nepal were to succeed in getting their friends to visit now, it’s just not a large enough number. For that reason, I think these promotions are muddled. People want more than just an invitation. I wonder how much the Nepalis have analyzed their tourists in the past, or whether it “just happened” that they developed a tourism industry.
Frankly, the Nepal news is also full of bad news about how they still can’t write a constitution. The international press is covering the women’s rights issues, and this is creating a problem. The lack of equal rights for women puts Nepal in the same tourist category as Iraq for a lot of wealthy Westerners who have discretionary money to spend on frills like travel. When it’s a couple travelling, the woman makes the final decision. She’ll say “Sorry honey, I don’t want to go there. Let’s hike in (Switzerland/Australia/Scotland) instead.”
Sorry to say it, but it’s true. International tourists will choose to go elsewhere until the government starts to include women and become equal. Sure, there will be people who say “leave that to us Nepalis to decide” but frankly, while they are deciding the government, they are also deciding how Nepal is perceived by the world. The perception translates into tourist dollars. Trust me. I just spent two months travelling in India.
Does the C.A. want Nepal to be thrown in the same basket as India?
India was gearing up for world tourism and then – the Delhi rape occurred. I spent two months in India anyway. For me, I had a fine trip. But – the publicity scared away most other Americans. Things like this get blown out of proportion. I saw plenty of European women travellers, but few Americans. One horrific crime in a country of 900 million people, and India’s tourism promotion work went down the tube. No amount of marketing will cover this over.
And for Nepal? Nepal is a fine place for women travelers, but Nepal can’t take the risk of seeming “anti-women” or unfriendly to women. Ask the tour operators from India how it’s working for them. Equality for women is a no-brainer for many reasons, but among them is the impact on the tourism business.
Universities have studied tourism. Here is what they will tell you. There is no such thing as the universal tourist.
I websearched this and found a site from a company that books world travel. Here is one link that describes five “travel personalities” in a nice way; They ask each person to identify themselves as one of the following:
1) Off the Beaten Path
2) Travelling in Style;
3) With Specific intentions;
4) cultural immersion;
5) Responsible Travellers.
Each category will choose different itineraries and different activities. Tourism policy can be designed to analyze the kind of souvenirs each group will want to bring back ( yes there is actually a market for “Hard Rock Kathmandu” or “My parents climbed Mount Everest and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt”)
There was a classic article that divided tourists in to eight categories, but I can’t seem to find the original. Here is this other list, from memory
Beach vacation – family with small kids and lots of sun and sand
football – travelling to follow a sports team, usually by plane, with a group, drinking lots of beer; these people buy souvenirs with logos of the team ( “Emirates”)
eco-tourists/back to nature tourists – seeing wildlife or doing a nature project.
adventure tourists – off-the-beaten path with no plan or itinerary; ( only 4% of the total of world tourists) ( I suppose the IDF falls into this category)
museum-and-culture tourists – fly to a city, rent a car, go to cathedrals and wine bistros. usually a mature couple. Given that driving is not easy in Nepal, this was never really developed.
habitual tourists – same place each year.
and group tourists – such as to a religious pilgrimage. In Nepal’s case, groups from China; or Habitat for Humanity; or a University group.
How to use this
So my first line of inquiry would be – which categories was Nepal getting before? which specific ones are they now not getting?
Um, scratch the beach vacation right off the list. Nepal is 800 miles from the ocean. Nobody comes here for the sun and swimming. As a matter of fact, there’s a TV adventure fishing show that explores the mean-eating catfish in Nepal’s rivers. Nope.
Obviously, the travel goose that was laying the golden egg was the Everest trek and Annapurna Trek. Every individual climber from a rich country, they say, was paying up to $100,000 US dollars for the permit to climb Everest. And that’s not the entire amount that would be spent.
Each of these places took a hit. First, the second-year-in-a-row closure of Everest due to icefalls on the main glacier ( an icefall is not the same as a snow avalanche, strictly speaking, though they overlap). and at Annapurna, even before the quake, bad publicity from an unseasonable blizzard in October of 2014. ( we all saw it coming, why the trekkers, or the government, did not is a mystery).
These two routes are over used anyway. There’s other really terrific places to trek that would be just as good.
One problem is, from a Nepali standpoint you can also look at the places where tourism flourished before, and see they are now hurting. Both Thamel, Pokhara, and Sauraha were the jumping off points and staging areas for people before-and-after their trek. A group lands in Kathmandu, spends three or four days in Thamel; goes on the trek; then cuts loose when they return, splurging on the restaurants and bars of Thamel. Or Pokhara. Since the quakes, the outer parts of Thamel are quiet, with many shops shuttered.
Low Hanging Fruit
The big target, if you ask me, is to lure back the groups of travelers. For this you need to give them a specific pitch that goes beyond “it’s safe now, you can come back” – otherwise they will be asking “Come back? for what?”
You need to give them a purpose. a reason. when they go back from where they came. They need to have a one-sentence description of why they went and what they did there that was unique. They will be at their workplace, standing in the food line of the cafeteria, and people will ask them what they did for vacation. So far, that is what is missing from the marketing. I can give examples, but this blog is already getting too long……
One last thing
Books and literature about Nepal. Time for the movie version of “The Snow Leopard” or perhaps, a Nepal film and literature festival to be held in New York City. NatGeo needs to do a “Nepal Week” to rival “Shark Week.”
Oh, and if you got this far? go to Amazon and check out one of my two books about Nepal…. the second one is titled “The Sacrament of the Goddess” and it’s an adventure story, soon to be a major motion picture…..