Infrastructure, Capacity Building Key to Nepal Tourism Growth

Mario Hardy PATA Travel Mart CEO

Interview by Savina Xavier

The travel industry is an important part of every country’s economy and this is especially the case with Nepal. While the scenically-blessed country is already doing quite well at the tourism front, there is still  so much more to the Himalayan Nation than just mountainous terrain, sprawling greenery, rich fauna and adventure sports.

World-leading travel association PATA believes that Nepal has a lot more to tap in terms of tourism potential. It opines that Nepal has to learn the ‘skill of storytelling’. And one might wonder how storytelling would fit the tourism industry?

PATA answers this by saying, Nepal has to look beyond promoting Everest, it needs to ‘tell the tale’ of its people, culture, heritage and history.

In a candid interview with PATA Chief Executive Officer Dr. Mario Hardy, Nepali Sansar Bureau got to explore the prospects of the tourism industry in general, PATA’s own tourism promotion journey and Nepal’s growing tourism potential.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

1. NSB: Recently, the world celebrated the 39th Tourism Day with the theme Tourism and Digital Transformation. Give us your thoughts on the same in a few words.

Mario Hardy: In my opinion, this was one of the most productive tourism day celebrations in years. At the official World Tourism Day 2018 celebration in Budapest, Hungary, there were a number of solutions presented that focused on solving real life problems in answer to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

2. NSB: From the first Travel Mart in Manila to the latest 41st edition in Malaysia, how has PATA’s journey been from past to present, in brief?

Mario Hardy: PATA Travel Mart was amongst the first travel trade shows when it first began 41 years ago, which has helped lead the path to the development of the travel and tourism industry across the Asia Pacific region. Through the years, the event has allowed small to medium sized businesses to develop and new destinations to be discovered. The event today focuses on quality as opposed to quantity and brings buyers and sellers from across the world to trade, network and build their business.

3. NSB: How about the recently-concluded 41st PATA Travel Mart 2018? Did it bring expected outcomes?

Mario Hardy: PATA Travel Mart 2018 achieved its objective of exposing a new destination, Langkawi, to the global market. Deals were made, business was conducted, and business networks were expanded. Furthermore, many delegates left the event with greater knowledge of the current trends and issues in the industry due to the many insightful side events during the event.

4. NSB: What are the current trends observed in the world travel industry, especially with customer preferences?

Mario Hardy: Even though we have heard it over and over again in recent years, the new trend in the industry is that more and more travellers are looking for local experiences. The days of simply visiting iconic sites are numbered, we as travellers are in search of unique experiences and want to explore the unexplored.

5. NSB: Which are the Pacific Asian countries that still have untapped tourism potential and what initiatives is PATA taking for the same?

Mario Hardy: The entire Pacific region is still very much unexplored. There are so many beautiful islands with their own unique culture and heritage. Having just returned from “Beautiful Samoa”, I can attest to that. In Asia, countries such as Timor Leste and many parts of India and China remain generally unexplored by international travelers.

6. NSB: What according to PATA makes the Nepal Tourism Industry stand out?

Mario Hardy: Nepal is a country that has more to offer than what is currently being promoted. There is so much rich culture, heritage and history that world needs to know about. For instance, I believe there are around 126 ethnic groups dispersed across the country in remote areas that still remain unexplored. Furthermore, let’s be honest, you have never been to Nepal till the day you tasted a momo.

7. NSB: While Nepal is performing really well in the tourism industry, what do you think the country needs to exhibit its full potential?

Mario Hardy: A momos festival and I would be the first one to sign up. Jokes aside, Nepal needs to tell the story of its people, its culture and heritage and its diversity, and move away from simply promoting Everest.

8. NSB: Nepal has set a goal of drawing two million visitors through its campaign Visit Nepal 2020. Is this an achievable feat?

Mario Hardy: Yes, most definitely. However, the 2 million visitors need to be dispersed across the entire country. The country also needs major investment in infrastructure, airports, roads, and sustainable energy as well as the implementation of e-visas.

9. NSB: How is PATA helping Nepal with its Visit Nepal 2020 project? What joint (PATA & Nepal) events are lined up in the future for the cause? Provide a list of events already covered under the theme.

Mario Hardy: PATA recently held a Human Capital Development training workshop in Kathmandu on “The Art of Storytelling” and it is our understanding that the PATA Nepal Chapter will once again organise Himalayan Travel Mart in the first half of next year. We are also hopeful that we can continue to organise regular training workshops in the coming years.

10. NSB: PATA Nepal Chapter received the prestigious NextGen Engagement Award. Tell us how significant is this award and what special qualities in Nepal won them this award?

Mario Hardy: This special award is for chapters that engage with the next generation of tourism professionals to help develop tourism in their respective destinations. We at PATA consider this award to be amongst the most important, as it is important for our industry to develop the next generation of tourism leaders.

11. NSB: We noticed that you have dedicated separate chapters for Nepal Students and Nepal GATE Students? How are they different from the Nepal Chapter and why?

Mario Hardy: Each student chapter is meant to be linked to a respective university that is also PATA member, with the student chapter members being enrolled at that university. As there are not many universities in Nepal that are PATA members, the local chapter saw the need to create the Nepal Student Chapter to allow other students to also get involved if they wish. We have 21 student chapters around the world, which are meant to be managed entirely by the students with a university advisor, and they are growing at a fast rate.

12. NSB: What is the percentage of Nepali students aspiring to pursue tourism-related professions currently? Do they have a promising future ahead?

Mario Hardy: I  don’t know the number of young people studying tourism in Nepal, however they do have a promising future. Just consider the growth rate our industry is experiencing and that will tell you how much potential there is the career development of the young students.

13. NSB: Does PATA offer any scholarships for youth pursuing tourism as their specialization?

Mario Hardy: Yes, there are scholarships available through the PATA Foundation offered every year.

14. NSB: How is Nepal Tourism Industry performing in comparison with its closest neighbors? Any shift in trends?

Mario Hardy: The Nepal Tourism Industry is performing really well in terms of growth numbers. We know that Nepal still has much more potential, but it needs to grow at sustainable pace, ideally at the same rate at its infrastructure development.

15. NSB: How supportive has the Nepal Government been in boosting the country’s tourism potential, either through internal policies or collaboration with international organizations like PATA?

Mario Hardy: In recent years, the Nepal Government has been very much engaged with PATA and we believe has very much benefitted from its active participation.

16. NSB: How about the investment potential of the Nepal tourism industry, and the role of public & private sector participation in developing the country as the global tourism destination?

Mario Hardy: As I have mentioned before, there is a great room for infrastructure development and the country needs to build its capacity to handle the expected growth over the next decade. This obviously is creating lots of opportunities for the private sector. It’s critical that both the public and private sectors work together to ensure that their plans are aligned.

17. NSB: As a leading travel & tourism promotion organization, what sort of environment PATA feels can make a country, the best travel & tourism destination for travellers from all parts of the world?

Mario Hardy: For a destination to succeed, it needs to have a clear vision. It needs have ease of access, airlift, either no visa or simple visa applications, a good infrastructure and capacity to scale.

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