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‘Flagship Carrier Should Be Revived For Tourism Growth’

Sagar Pandey
The thought that the private sector should now take the lead in boosting the tourism industry is gaining momentum. That one in four visitors to Nepal go trekking should say something about the popularity of this activity in the country. Around 1000 trekking agencies are affiliated with the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN). Sagar Pandey, Executive Chairman of the Himalayan Glacier Trekking, was elected as the General Secretary of TAAN at the recently held general convention of the association.  The Corporate’s  Sagar Ghimire, spoke to Pandey this week about the challenges and problems of trekking agencies and their role in private sector-led tourism development. Excerpts:
Can it be inferred from the political leverage seen during the general convention of TAAN that the association is under the control of political parties rather than trekking agencies?
Though I cannot rule out the inclination of an individual towards a certain political party, TAAN is a purely professional association representing professional trekking agencies. We do not hold any political baggage so we are a non-political entity.
What are the challenges and problems in running trekking agencies? 
Tax/VAT for this service sector, illegal trekking operations threatening our cottage industries and penetration of international investment in this business, among others, are short term challenges we are dealing with. Long term problems include the collapse of trekking routes due to the expansion of roads, development of tourism infrastructure, developing new trekking trails, promoting tourism and policy reforms.
Also, since this is a service sector, 13 per cent VAT/tax is too high for us to afford. It is not judicious to charge the service sector VAT as much as the manufacturing sector is charged. All entrepreneurs should be brought under the VAT, and the government should lower it to 4/5 per cent as is the international practice.
Are trekking agencies dissatisfied with the government’s attitude for tourism development?
The recently commemorated international tourism  day was just an opportunity for the government to repeat its rhetoric on the importance of tourism for the country’s economic growth. Unfortunately, no effective plans toward such sector were presented. There is no research on how tourists make their plans, what the international trends are in tourism, why tourists come to Nepal, and what should be our strategies. Even after one and a half years of the completion of Nepal Tourism Year (NTY), the report of the event is yet to be prepared. How do you review the performance of stakeholders with this laid back approach?
What are the marketing and promotional plans of TAAN to brand Nepal as the world’s best trekking destination in the international market?
Apart from participating in world exhibitions and trade fairs and using international media, we think reviving our flagship national carrier Nepal Airlines Corporation which connects Nepal to the world can double the number of tourists. Provided that our national carriers has flights to multiple countries, the arrival of tourists can increase significantly. We will pressure the government for this.
It is said that the price undercutting by trekking agencies is responsible for the decline of tourists’ spending despite a rise in their numbers. What will TAAN do to curb such practices?
With the lack of correct data, we make evaluations through hypotheses or the record of the World Bank or other multilateral agencies. The concerned agency should come up with a proper data keeping system which will help us address this problem. Undercutting of price also results from a competitive market. Gone are the days when tourists used to come without information of the price. We cannot fix the price of any package in a free market. However, we can only create awareness about ethical practices through various forums. We cannot stop them even if they run their agencies on a loss by providing services at low prices.
Acknowledging the role of the private sector, a provision has been made for the private sector’s representation in the Nepal Tourism Board. What is your assessment of its performance?
Interactions with representatives of the tourism sector, have shown that the planning, execution and other roles of the NTB have not been up to our expectations. The post of Chief Executive Officer of NTB has been vacant for the past two years. We maintained that there should be representation on the board of NTB from professional associations like TAAN and NATTA. Only this can ensure true representation of the private sector as well as avoid controversies and politicisation.
What are some future plans in developing new trekking trails? 
There is a need for parallel trails where previous ones have collapsed due to road expansion. Since our geography is complicated, we must collaborate with the government for developing trekking trails. We have been stuck with the same old trails like Annapurna and Langtang trails, but we have to make new trails that encompass the mountains stretching across the country.
How is revenue collected from the distribution of Trekkers’ Management Information System (TIMS) cards?
The revenue of TIMS is for developing infrastructures, promoting, conserving and maintaining trekking trails. A committee was formed for the monitoring of the TIMS revenue. We will plan to spend this money constructively following the report from this committee.

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