The global outbreak of COVID-19 Pandemic and subsequent global lockdown has challenged all of us in unimaginable ways. In particular, the travel and tourism industry has come to a complete halt for the past four months now. Some countries have reached the peak, and rebooted their internal and cluster tourism activities whereas others are cautiously observing and considering reopening. It is clear that the majority of the countries around the world are currently easing their lockdowns and travel restrictions by introducing and imposing necessary health and safety guidelines, the world today is striving to restart Tourism.
At this juncture, NEPAL being one of the most resilient destinations, has recently released the Operational Guidelines to encourage industry stakeholders to gear up for restarting its tourism. But, the "Protocols and Guidelines" are not sufficient, particularly in this new normal stage, when the travelers are very selective and sensitive among their preferred destinations whose fate will be based upon its preparedness and management efficiency, building the travelers' confidence.
It is a fact that we are moving slower in comparison to other countries and we are unable to give a clearer picture in terms of decision making for tourism Survival as well as Revival strategies as compared to our neighboring destinations. However, as the saying goes, "It is never too late to start something new and to do all those things that you've been longing to do", NEPAL, should immediately act on the following key actions gearing up towards restarting tourism with a foreseeable future.
1. Human Capital Development (HCD) Programs for effective implementation of Operational Guidelines
The practical and effective implementation of Protocols/ Guidelines must be the top priority at the moment, which calls for the Human Capacity Building Training Programs to upgrade and strengthen the skills and capacity of human resources in the industry at large. We could only ensure Nepal's preparedness and effectiveness to operate en-route to the new normal with trained human resources in tourism services.
2. Launching of the Certification Program or, Safety Stamp for Service Providers
Many countries and destinations have signed up for the global safety and hygiene stamp ("Safe Travels") launched by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). Similarly, the government/destination authorities of Nepal should introduce its Certification Program or, Safety Stamp for Hotels, Restaurants, Airlines, Transport, Rentals, and other service providers that comply with the standardized hygiene and safety protocols, which in turn will enhance the confidence of travelers. It also needs periodic monitoring and controlling mechanism, which can be a taskforce involving the Ministry, the Tourism Board, Tourist Police, and any other relevant authorities in the destination.
3. Gradual Resumption of Aviation
Having all safety and hygiene protocols in place, the restart of aviation would be the doorway to restarting tourism or tourism recovery. With the experience of many successful repatriation flights to and from Tribhuwan International Airport, we are now practically assured and pretty much ready for the resumption of domestic flights, and we could gradually and systematically resume regional and international flights with favorable circumstances and anticipated demand in the market. So, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal needs to align needful modality in this regard.
4. Preparing modality for easing of Travel Restrictions and Formalities:
Easing of travel restrictions are fundamentals towards restarting tourism, but it would require thoughtful decision making with appropriate measures to control the spread of COVID-19 that travelers must take into consideration. Meanwhile, easing the travel formalities such as VISA upon arrival (e-visa), Easy and Seamless Check-ins, and check-outs upon Arrival and Departures, etc. would be very convenient and encouraging to travelers. Therefore, Nepal should act now on preparing the modality for easing travel restrictions and formalities.
5. Destination Visibility:
The destination NEPAL should be more visible among its source markets with the latest updates and the wonders to inspire people during the crisis phase and invite them to visit later. For the time-being, Nepal could focus on;
- Disseminating regular or periodic Travel Information updates through the Key national and international media channels, social media / Digital Marketing Channels, and partner media houses, organizations and platforms associated with the Nepal Tourism Board.
- Promotion through Videos showcasing Nepal's Preparedness, willingness, and determination to welcome tourists in the new normal ensuring the safety and hygiene standards.
- Appointing and engaging the Natural Ambassadors (Friends of Nepal) at different source markets to share positive stories, progress updates, preparedness, and offerings by the destination. These could be International Travel Bloggers / Media Personalities, Celebrities, Big International Outbound Tour Operators, International PRs, NRNs or Nepali Diaspora overseas and so on.
Having said all of the above, I feel this crisis has given us a special opportunity to reboot our tourism with overall policy reforms and best strategies to address the future of travel and tourism in Nepal. It would, of course, require strong will power and intrinsic motivation with the leadership and authorities at the forefront. More than ever, we need to work together with more collaborations and partnerships among all the stakeholders at different levels including; Government bodies, NTO/Associations, private sector business companies, and local communities in the country, as well as in the regional and international source markets.