Tourism sustainability and bouncing back post C-19

Let’s come together and channel our efforts with a clear-cut SRT(Survive-Revive-Thrive) strategy to fight against this mega crisis.
Deepak R Joshi

KATHMANDU: Tourism is one of the most important sectors to uplift Nepal’s socio-economic status robustly and rapidly. Despite having huge potential in terms of the immense resources for tourism development, Nepal has not been able to unleash this potential and reap the desired benefits. Poor infrastructure, unstable politics, and less understanding on its basic nature are the major reasons behind this. However, in recent times the situation was improving and we were on the right path. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 has hit not only us but the entire world badly.

Many people assume tourism to be a relatively small economic sector but when you look at the growth of the industry in the last 50 years then one can realize that it is an ever-expanding sector. Be it the increase in the number of travellers or the earnings or the job opportunities that it creates, the tourism industry has created a special niche in the global economy.

In fact, tourism is much more than just an economic sector. It is one of the few environment-friendly businesses and the largest foreign exchange earner. It helps interlink communities and aids tourism entrepreneurs to diversify with less investment. Being a multi-dimensional industry, tourism has a big role in connecting the varied supply chain like transport, handicraft/souvenirs, to food business. It also helps increase interactions with other economic sectors thus developing sustainable backward and forward linkages.

The overall objective of countries like Nepal should be to support the development of sustainable tourism in order to generate productive jobs and facilitate new income opportunities for broad sections of the population in targeted areas and segments. We should always respect the natural and intangible resources that are inherent in the destinations. In countries like Nepal, tourism has played a significant role in poverty alleviation too. Now, our effort needs to be focused on achieving a positive impact at three levels: People, planet, and profit —with a sustainable balance between these key interventions.

Sustainable tourism development is possible when there is a responsible, future-oriented, and stable political framework. For this year, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has set a very relevant theme for World Tourism Day 2020 (September 27) —‘Tourism and Rural Development’. This is very relevant as we are going through a very challenging time.

It is due to the development of tourism that local communities hold onto their unique natural and cultural heritage, supporting conservation projects, and safeguarding endangered species and lost traditions. In Nepal too, tourism has played a significant role in the livelihoods of local communities, be it the Sherpas of Solukhumbu or Thakalisof Mustang or Tharus of Chitwan or Newars of Kathmandu valley. The sector is not just a leading source of employment, particularly for women and youth, it also promotes peace and harmony and creates socio-economic inclusion for the most vulnerable regions.

There should be a very clear Nepal approach to bounce back from the adverse impact of the COVID-19. Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the private sector, government bodies and key stakeholders have been designing and implementing a series of measures to control the spread and reduce the risk of the virus. In Nepal, we are in the second phase of the lockdown. As the situation has deteriorated globally, this new pandemic has already created the biggest threat not only to the health sector but also to businesses, livelihoods and the daily life of humans.

However, over the centuries mankind has witnessed that any crisis has a limited life. It can’t and will not go on forever. Many experts have said that the pandemic will be brought under control considerably by the end of 2020, so let’s be hopeful and pray that this happens at the earliest.

Tourism is an economic activity that evolves from the movement of people from one place to another. Since the world is under a lockdown and people’s movement has been restricted, the first and the hardest hit industry is the travel and tourism sector putting millions of jobs at risk. And Nepal too has been hit by this impact.

In this context, Nepal should put in all its efforts for the survival of the industry and the country needs to be prepared for a quick recovery when the situation normalizes. Nepal now needs a special task force/committee, concrete strategy, and result-oriented action plan. Let’s come together and channel our efforts with a clear-cut SRT(Survive-Revive-Thrive) strategy to fight against this mega crisis.

Tourism is a very vulnerable industry to any such global crisis but at the same time it is also one of the most resilient industries. Efficient collaboration and effective communication are vital during and after a crisis. We have to position Nepal as a pure, pristine, peaceful and healing destination so as to be able to unleash the potential we have for sustainable development of the country.

The leaders and authorities have to guide and inspire Nepal’s tourism industry to develop, promote and sell extraordinary experiential tourism products. This involves engaging with multi-sector industries and the various departments of the government to leverage Nepal’s reputation as a unique, high-quality destination. And, without any hesitation or reservation we have to create synergies among all key players and implement the SRT strategy as survival is necessary for revival and sound revival creates the foundation to thrive sustainably.

Concerned authorities and industry representatives have to formulate certain guidelines and protocols that need to be followed strictly. Effective training programs must be provided to enable the front line service providers to handle different tourism related issues in the post COVID-19 era and encourage innovation that will help businesses to thrive by adopting the new norm.

The entire tourism sector needs to focus on 2020 as a year of survival of the industry and 2021 to revive business and 2022 to bounce back better.

After every crisis, there are four segments that always help the industry to quickly recover. One is domestic segment where travelers gather confidence quickly and it is easy to connect with them. Second is niche segment, in which the travelers are motivated by a strong desire and passion to travel to the destination/activity that they love the most. Third segment is business/corporate segment, in which a kind of compulsion is there that drives people to travel to widen their business. And the fourth is the pilgrimage segment in which a strong faith and belief pushes people to travel to the destination.

Similarly, there are five market movements after a crisis starting from domestic to neighboring to regional to short-haul and then to long-haul markets in a phase wise basis. Stakeholders of the tourism industry should be engaged in creating key messages and materials and communicate with all these segments and markets without any delay for a faster revival from this pandemic.

The decade of 2020-2030 will be the decade of the dominance of tourism in the journey of our socio-economic prosperity. As we synergize our efforts to restart tourism, we must think of redesigning so as to ensure that sustainable destination development and responsible business practices where tourism benefits are shared by all. Tourism can become sustainable only when destinations are cared by all and benefits are shared by all. Let’s take this crisis as an opportunity to rethink about the tourism sector and to build back better towards a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient tourism industry.

Tourism is a very important sector as it is the ultimate cross-cutting sector—it contributes directly or indirectly to all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations.

Joshi is the former chief executive officer of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB).

Deepak R Joshi |
Wednesday August 26, 2020, 10:19:05 AM |

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