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Nepal Invites Tourists to Visit Its Villages

August 12, 2008

Nepal is an attractive tourist spot for those who appreciate nature and adventure. However, the violence that has afflicted much of the country over the past decade has adversely affected tourism. Once political stability is attained, the nation needs to look at ways to expand its tourist potential.

Dr. Surendra Pradhanang is chairman of the Kathmandu Research Center, which was set up to promote village tourism, a concept Pradhanang developed in the 1980's.

"As a nation of villages," Pradhanang said, "Nepal is looking at developing 'village tourism' as a means of advancing the economy, improving the lives of villagers and mobilizing its unique resources. Tourism could be the meeting place between the global economy and the village economy.".

Pradhanang said there would be no reason for Nepal to be included on lists of the "poorest countries" and "failed states" if it took advantage of its assets and promoted tourism on a broader scale.

The country's instability during the Maoist insurgency (1996-2006) decreased the number of visitors significantly in recent years. In 1999, tourist numbers and revenue were at their highest in the country's history, with some 500,000 tourist arrivals recorded that year. The figure fell to around 300,000 in 2006. There were around 83,000 visitors in the first three months of this year.

Since the peace agreement between the Maoists and the government two years ago, tourist figures are recovering. In fact, there have been recent complaints that tourists who want to visit Nepal cannot find enough flights. If peace continues, predictions are that Nepal's tourist industry may fully recover by 2010. It is likely to remain highly concentrated in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan, Annapurna, and Sagarmatha, however.

At present, Nepal's tourist industry is in the hands of an affluent class of individuals who are affiliated with and close to the ruling class and government bodies. Almost all the tourist income goes into the pockets of these people. At the same time, 32 percent of the nation's population lives below the poverty line.

No Nepalese government has succeeded in eradicating poverty, hunger, disease, or corruption. For years, rumors of corruption surrounded every government-related development project. Corruption is a cancer that continues to eat away at proper governance. Historically, no political leader has been completely free from corruption and unfair practices. Unfortunately, these corrupt people are still in the government or near and dear to the government bodies.

The challenge for Nepal is to distribute wealth among the people more equitably, and to open up employment opportunities to the whole population.

Pradhanang's strategy is to bring tourist revenue to the villages by promoting Nepal's simple and natural way of life, allowing visitors to experience a world and a lifestyle completely different from their own. This will enrich both the tourists and their village hosts, broadening their understanding of one another and opening the way for the Nepalese people to develop their economy.

Pradhanang warns that inflation is now threatening to devalue Nepal's currency, weakening the people's already limited spending power. The investment environment in Nepal is very fragile due to instability, continued fear of insurgent attacks, labor strikes, and low productivity.

Generating public income is an urgent task, Pradhanang says. His low-cost, high-return village tourism concept is an original and innovative approach to attracting foreign revenue to the country.

"Tourism is mistakenly considered a rich man's business," he says. "The concept of village tourism is a radical change to bring benefit to the common people.. If it operates effectively, 'Village Nepal' will create income and employment opportunities from village to village and from village to nation. Hence, the Nepalese can stand on their own legs and brainstorm on their own to carry out the mission of development."

On the downside, many Nepalese are more conscious of politics than economics and development at present. Politics has threatened their livelihoods, while economics is the real framework to ensure individual and collective development. Most importantly, real democracy, producing leaders who have the mandate of the people, must partner with economic planning and development.

Nepal faces many challenges and many opportunities in building a new nation. Most important are national integration, unity, peace, infrastructure development, and economic growth. It is time to abandon the politics of revenge and adopt a clear program of renovation, restructuring, and national development. Every Nepalese deserves a role in building the nation, in order to realize the nation's full strength and power.

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