It has been two years since I visited Nepal for the first and last time, in January 2015 when I attended the third Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) at Soaltee Hotel, Kathmandu. Then I also visited Pokhara, courtesy of Media 9. I like Nepal, its mountains, lakes and people.
With eight of the 10 highest mountains in the planet, this is Nepal’s unique tourism attraction with a potential to attract tens of millions of people from abroad. Yet Nepal is far from attaining this potential. For instance in 2015, it attracted only slightly more than half-million foreign visitors and slightly less than half-billion dollars in revenues. There should be some understatement in these official figures but still the numbers are far from its potential.
For the table below, we get data from developing and emerging economies in South East Asia (Brunei and Singapore are removed from the list) for comparison with countries of South Asia. (see table)
The above numbers illustrate that (1) among South Asian economies, Maldives is the most attractive, only half-million citizens and yet able to attract 1.2 million foreign visitors spending some $2.6 billion in 2015. (2) Sri Lanka is next most attractive, (3) India has the most number of foreign visitors but compared to its nearly 1.3 billion population, the 8 million tourists it attracted was too small.
In comparison with South East Asia, (4) Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos are good countries to take lessons from, see their tourists/population ratio, 32% to 83%. And (5) in terms of tourism revenues, Thailand is the most successful, experiencing a doubling of revenues every five years.
As one of the half-million foreign visitors of Nepal in 2015, here are some of my observations about the country:
First, electricity supply was very poor, up to 18 hours a day of power outage in some areas of Kathmandu in January. Big and medium size companies like malls and hotels must have their own power generator sets running on oil. There is a need therefore to have more power generation plants. Bringing in foreign capital, technology and expertise in building new hydro plants, or modernising existing hydro plants, is necessary.
Second, roads are generally narrow and in bad condition. Private investors can be invited in infrastructure development through toll roads, say in roads going to the airport and major cities or municipalities outside Kathmandu.
Third, only few international airlines serve Nepal and this creates a monopoly or duopoly position on certain routes. Liberalising the airline industry and allowing more foreign players to compete with each other will greatly help in attracting more foreign visitors. Competition often leads to lower prices, air fares will decline and more foreigners will be able to visit Nepal.
Fourth, there is only one international airport. Other major tourist destinations like Pokhara can be converted into an international airport too, need to expand and lengthen the runway. Many tourists want direct flight to their destinations, to reduce travel time, reduce danger of flight delays/cancellations, and reduce cost of travel.
Fifth, some political instability affects visitors. When we went to Pokhara, there was a strike and some passengers were stranded at the airport, no taxi to bring them to their hotels. Luckily, our hotel picked us up at the airport. But going around, we have to walk long distances. Then when we got back to Kathmandu, there was another strike in the city itself. Again, no taxi, many shops and restaurants are closed. This kind of political instability can discourage some tourists from coming in, or from coming back.
Nepal’s people are warm and friendly. They deserve to be more prosperous, like the rest of developing Asian countries. Nepal needs to have bigger and more stable supply of electricity that run 24/7, good airports and roads up to the mountains which can attract investors that will build ski resorts, with hotels and cable cars.
Public policies need to be reoriented to be more friendly to investors, local and foreign. Maldives, Thailand, Cambodia and other Asian countries have clear examples how to do this.
Bienvenido “Nonoy” Oplas, Jr. is a free market proponent based in Manila, the Philippines. He is President of Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc. and a regular columnist and blogger, (funwithgovernment.blogspot.com).