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FOOD TOURISM EXPLORING THE ART OF CULINARY TRAVEL

General Secretary of Hotel Association Nepal and Managing Director of Airport Hotel, Binayak Shah has been involved in the tourism industry for more than 35 years. He is also the coordinator of Globalising Nepal Heritage Cuisine Campaign which aims to establish Nepali heritage cuisine in the global scenario. B360 caught up with Shah to learn about the campaign and the current situation of hotel industry in Nepal. Excerpts:

Can you tell us about Globalising Nepal Heritage Cuisine campaign?

People are familiar with the rich Nepali cuisine but not with the different regions and places in Nepal that offer such sumptuous food varieties. There is no direct linkage between those cuisines and tourism here in Nepal. In countries like Malaysia, Thailand, India, China, Italy, about one third of the tourists visit these countries just to experience the food that the streets, restaurants and various parts of the countries have to offer, but somehow in Nepal the rate of tourists visiting the country to experience our cuisine is very low. Though we have myriad cuisines, tourists only know about Dal Bhat and Mo:Mo.

Because there hasn’t been any promotion of tourism done on the basis of our food heritage, we at HAN had a conversation with tourism icon Karna Shakya about promoting tourism in Nepal through food and then started working with Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal (REBAN), Chefs Association of Nepal and Nepal Tourism Board since September 2017.

Tell us about the processes of this campaign.

In the first stage, we collected about 200 names of typical heritage cuisines from different parts of Nepal. As we cannot globalise all the food varieties of Nepal, we developed a criteria based on compatibility of what tourists prefer, for example spices, chillies, oil, portions, availability of ingredients not just in national markets but in international markets as well.

In the cookbook, there are 28 varieties of food: five soups, five appetisers, 13 main courses and five deserts. This is the first phase of our Globalizing Nepal Heritage Cuisine project. The cookbook is also available for free in digital format on the internet so that anybody can cook Nepali food according to the recipes provided.

The response we have received, mainly from Non Resident Nepalis in various foreign countries operating restaurants or hospitality businesses, has been positive. They have appreciated our efforts and now through such projects they can also promote Nepali cuisine in their residing countries.

The tourism sector seems to require a marketing revamp? How do projects like Globalizing Nepal Heritage Cuisine help?

Yes, the point is a valid. The majority of tourism currently in Nepal is based on natural beauty. Although it has been a major reason for tourists visiting Nepal, we need to roll out new products and services. The cookbook and videos promoting Nepali cuisine in the international market can play a vital role. Tourists may come here to experience the nature, adventure sports or the cultural aspects of Nepal, but they all do have to eat. Promoting Nepali cuisine is a step ahead in that direction. All we need to do now is to intensify and promote Nepali cuisine not just in Nepal, but across the world. There are almost 60-70 lakh Nepalis living in 80 different countries. Reaching out to them is the first step we have taken. In the second phase, we are planning to do international promotions like organising food festivals in the US and Europe to gain international attraction.

The basic work of HAN is to develop the hotel industry of Nepal. The history of tourism and hotel industry is Nepal dates back to almost 70 years, and from that time till now the hotel industry in Nepal has rapidly developed. In the next 3-4 years, almost 24 new four and five star hotels are being established in the country. We already have the presence of several international chain hotels and more are interested to venture in. The only problem now is that Nepal hasn’t been able to attract more tourists which is mainly due to infrastructural concerns such as airport and road conditions. At the moment, hotels in Nepal can facilitate 25 lakh tourists. In 2017 only 9.45 lakhs tourists have been recorded visiting Nepal. So the gap is huge. But promoting tourism in the right way and developing key infrastructures by the government will play a fundamental character in the future of the tourism and hotel industry in Nepal.

What is with the hotel standardisation policy which states that even non-star hotels will also be categorised? What will such a practice do?

All hotels needs to be standardised, even non-star ones. It is a policy which will makes the hotel industry better. Hotel owners and operators will be able to see clearly how they can attract tourists to their hotel through such policy. For example, they will be informed about sanitary knowledge even though they are non-star hotels. In every part of Nepal, especially in rural areas, there are mostly non-star hotels and most tourists visit these parts when they go for mountaineering or trekking activities. So if these hotels are regulated and categorised, both tourists and hotels stand to gain.

Why do international chain hotels want to invest in Nepal?

Though Nepal is a small country, the natural and cultural beauty of Nepal has been a key reason for tourist attraction. International chain hotels have seen that investing in Nepal is good investment. Nepal is also a hub of various NGO and INGO activity which means expats are also target customers of these international chains.

Other than that, some hotel chains have seen a long term future in Nepal. Nepal is between two powerhouse countries in the world, India and China, and targeting Indian and Chinese tourists and business persons will be beneficial business.

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