Nepal invites tourists to visit its villages
Nepal is an attractive tourist spot for those who appreciate nature and adventure. However, the violence that has afflicted much of the country over the past 10 years has adversely affected tourism. Once political stability is attained, the nation needs to look at ways to expand its tourist potential.
As a nation of villages, Nepal is looking at developing "village tourism" as a means of advancing the economy, improving the lives of villagers and mobilizing its unique resources. Tourism could be the meeting place between the global economy and the village economy.
Dr. Surendra Pradhanang is chairman of the Kathmandu Research Center, set up to promote village tourism, a concept he developed in the 1980s. He says there is no reason for Nepal to be included on lists of "poorest countries" and "failed states" if it would take advantage of its assets and promote tourism on a broader scale.
Mountain climbers and trekkers come to Nepal to take advantage of the high mountains and beautiful scenery, and villages located along the popular trails have benefited from tourist dollars. But the majority of people still feel this kind of income is out of their reach.
The country's instability during the Maoist insurgency decreased the numbers of visitors significantly in recent years. In 1999, tourist numbers and revenue were at their highest in the country's history, with some 500,000 tourist arrivals recorded that year. The figure fell to around 300,000 in 2006. There were around 83,000 visitors in the first three months of this year.
Since the peace agreement between the Maoists and the government, tourist figures are recovering. In fact, there have been recent complaints that tourists who want to visit Nepal cannot find enough flights. If peace continues, predictions are that Nepal's tourist industry may fully recover by 2010. It is likely to remain highly concentrated in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan, Annapurna and Sagarmatha, however.
At present, Nepal's tourist industry is in the hands of an affluent individuals. Almost all the tourist income goes into the pockets of these people. At the same time, 32 percent of the nation's population lives below the poverty line.
Nepal hasnot succeeded in eradicating poverty, hunger, disease or corruption. For years, rumors of corruption surrounded every related development project. Corruption is a cancer that continues to eat away at proper governance. Historically, no political leader has been completely free from corruption and unfair practices.
The challenge for the Nepal is to distribute wealth among the people more equitably, and to open up employment opportunities to the whole population.
Pradhanang's strategy is to bring tourist revenue to the villages by promoting Nepal's simple and natural way of life, allowing visitors to experience a world and a lifestyle completely different from their own. This will enrich both the tourists and their village hosts, broadening their understanding of one another and opening the way for the Nepali people to develop their economy.
Pradhanang warns that inflation is now threatening to devalue Nepal's currency, weakening the people's already limited spending power. The investment environment in Nepal is very fragile due to instability, continued fear of insurgent attacks, strikes and low productivity.
Generating public income is an urgent task, Pradhanang says. His low-cost, high-return village tourism concept is an original and innovative approach to attracting foreign revenue to the country.
"Tourism is mistakenly considered a rich man's business," he says. "The concept of village tourism is a radical change to bring benefit to the common people...If it operates effectively, 'Village Nepal' will create income and employment opportunities from village to village and from village to nation. Hence, the Nepalese can stand on their own legs and brainstorm on their own to carry out the mission of development."
On the downside, many Nepalese are more conscious of politics than economics and development at present. Politics has threatened their livelihoods, while economics is the real framework to ensure individual and collective development. Most importantly, real democracy, producing leaders who have the mandate of the people, must partner with economic planning and development.
Nepal faces many challenges and many opportunities in building a nation. Most important are national integration, unity, peace, infrastructure development and economic growth. It is time to abandon the politics of revenge and adopt a clear program of renovation, restructuring and national development. Every Nepali deserves a role in building the nation, in order to realize the nation's full strength and power.
This article was originally published by United Press International, Asia.Nepali journalist Kamala Sarup associates and writes for mediaforfreedom.com. She is specializes in in-depth reporting and writing on peace, anti-war, women, terrorism, democracy, and development. Some of her publications are: Women's Empowerment in South Asia, Nepal (booklets); Prevention of Trafficking in Women Through Media, (book); Efforts to Prevent Trafficking in for Media Activism (media research). She has also written two collections of stories. Sarup's interests include international conflict resolution, cross-cultural communication, philosophy, feminism, political, socio-economic and literature. Her current plans are to move on to humanitarian work in conflict areas in the near future. She also is experienced in organizational and community development. Mediaforfreedom.com