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NTY: Old Wine In New Bottle?

Posted by: Ananda P Shrestha | Date: January 23, 2011

The Loktantrik government had made it clear on several occasions that things would fall in place and that the country would revert to normal once the country gets a new prime minister and the drafting of the new constitution is completed. But it is easier said than done, it seems that the situation in the country has fared no better. In fact, going by recent developments it seems to be going from the proverbial frying pan to the fire. Going by the bickering, mistrust and bargaining by our leaders for the loaves and fishes of office as has been seen in the last six months, it seems that the country could be in for harder days ahead. The Nepal Tourism Year (NTY) 2011 that was just ushered in with much fanfare amidst all the chaos, insecurity, uncertainty and frequent strikes will, for its success, need all the luck there is. Besides, the United States declaring Nepal unsafe for travel could also work as a serious deterrent, possibly compelling other European travelers to rethink their visit to Nepal.

The tourism industry that was beginning to look up suddenly found itself in the doldrums again with the political stalemate regarding the election of a new prime minister. But on seeing that no solution was in sight, and that too with the tourist season at hand, the tourism authorities out of sheer desperation had to resort to short-term measures. Therefore, the NTY. The move was a good one except that not much preparation seems to have been made on that front. Entrepreneurs no doubt have been sending positive messages to the international community. There was also talk to make Kantipuri Nagari tourist-friendly and boost tourism in the city itself. But not much has been done on the conservation front or in promoting the heritage and age-old culture of Kathmandu city from the visitor’s aspect.

Much also still needs to be done in reviving public awareness campaigns, beautification as well as conservation of the environment in the tourist areas of Kathmandu – namely the traffic islands that now wear a dry, pathetic look. The focus should have been more towards making the city tourist-friendly, and promoting on a phase-wise basis, various events and festivals in Kathmandu. The sad, shameful and depressed look that Sundhara wears, a cultural attraction in its own right and that too right in the heart of the city, is a case in point.

Cleaning and greening major core areas of Kathmandu, should have been accorded priority. Hard decisions especially regarding the ugly display of goods on the streets, lanes and footpaths of the city that virtually clog them to the consternation of pedestrians was again not given the importance it deserved. In spite of several attempts in the past, the implementation of the policies to make Ason and Bhotahiti more attractive by removing the ugly display of goods by the shopkeepers thus, encroaching lanes and footpaths has never been a reality. To date, no shop from Kamalakshi to Bhimsenthan – one of the three major Heritage Walk routes – has stopped displaying goods on the streets, and neither for that matter have shops in the already clogged lanes and by lanes in the inner parts of the city. The much-despised practice not only mars the beauty of the traditional bazaar but also causes tremendous inconvenience to pedestrians and shoppers besides being an eyesore to foreign visitors.

According to the shopkeepers, however, they have not received any notice so far from the authorities to remove their merchandize from the footpaths. In fact, there are even reports that most of the shopkeepers bribe the monitoring Metropolitan City Police to continue the display of their wares. No wonder the display of bicycles, dresses, shoes and groceries on the streets, not to speak of the damage at places done to traditional architecture continue as ever before. Despite all this, the historical bazaars of the city continue to thrive and attract visitors and buyers. But the charm and character, heritage and significance of such traditional markets that exude a charm of their own is lost, especially on tourists who come to see them. These are also major tourist attractions like our mountains and natural beauty needs to be internalized by the concerned authorities. Any tourism boosting programmes should focus more on what tourists come to see rather than on what ‘we think’ they come to see.

In this context, a study on the "Visitors’ Satisfaction Survey" conducted some time ago under Rational Tourism Development could come in handy and the findings incorporated in plans for enhancing tourism in the country. The importance of such traditional bazaars and heritage walks and sights mentioned earlier was and still is a visitor’s favourite. Some 58 per cent of the tourists, according to the study, enjoyed walking or browsing through these very narrow streets and getting a feel of the Nepali life, culture and hospitality, especially of those living at close quarters in areas around Kathmandu Durbar Square, Jhochhen Tole (Freak Street) Ason and Bhotahiti.

The survey also focused on the backpackers’ motivations in Kathmandu. It categorically showed that traditional culture, food restaurants, exoticism etc. were the major attractions for the visitors. Over 40 per cent of the visitors said they would specifically recommend their current accommodations to their friends on grounds that traditional culture creates a lasting impression! Hope NTY has looked into this aspect.

Among the specific sites in the capital, tourists love visiting Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, Swayambhu, Patan, Boudha, Pashupatinath, Thamel and Bhaktapur the most. Though the exact contribution of the low budget tourist was not ascertained, their contribution to Nepal’s tourism sector is significant as they relatively stay longer and support small hotels and lodges. What is of significance is that these independent backpack tourists are more reliable and less likely to cancel travel plans due to political turmoil, violence and natural disasters. Moreover, they are generally young, eco-sensitive and easy to deal with. How much concentration has gone into these specifics is yet to be seen.

Such traits make independent backpackers the ideal tourist market for Nepal. Therefore, their suggestions and demands made to the tourism industry in Nepal has hopefully been incorporated as an important component of the NTY package. Their major complaints in regard to the "unfair entrance fare" to Kathmandu Durbar Square, the alarming pollution, chaotic traffic and transportation, hassles, the fluid political situation, insecurity and lack of sufficient tourist facilities have hardly been looked into at all! However, the most serious resentment that the NTY and tourism authorities here need to remember is that tourists in Nepal are treated more as cash crops rather than people! To make the NTY’s Kathmandu segment a success, cleaning up the temples, streets, lanes and alleys – especially on heritage walk routes – could be a good start.

 

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