Rajan Simkhada is the President of Earthbound Expeditions (P) Limited, an adventure travel company. Born in Dhading in 1976, Rajan has involved with the tourism industry for more than one and a half decades. A business management graduate from Tribhuvan University (TU), he has gained a lot of experiences in the field of tourism. The promising entrepreneur is also one of the promoters of the Thamel Eco Resort (P) Limited.
The hardworking and honest entrepreneur has also been associated with several professional and social organisations such as Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), Sustainable Tourism Network (STN) and Porters Progress Nepal (PPN). An amateur comedian, he has also coordinated few education programmes being run for the poor and underprivileged children in some parts of the country.
Encouraged by a steady growth in the country’s tourism sector, the vigorous and visionary entrepreneur has spoken to Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal on some tourism-related issues. Excerpts:
How have you rated the present tourism situation in Nepal?
As a tourist destination, Nepal has witnessed an upward tourist arrival trend since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in November 2006. Our company’s business has also been growing gradually over the years. The number of tourists coming from China and some other countries of the region has been going up every year.
But being a sensitive sector, the tourism business often fluctuates in a politically unstable destination like ours. As the deadline (August 31) for completing the peace process and drafting a new constitution is just around the corner, our business partners abroad and clients have started inquiring about the political situation in the country.
If the peace process comes to a logical conclusion, the future of Nepal’s tourism industry will be bright.
What do you think are the prospects and challenges of this sector?
There is no any doubt that Nepal holds tremendous prospects for tourism considering her natural and cultural diversities. But it is sad that we have been unable to explore and utilise our unlimited tourism resources. The tourism industry in the country has reached the present state due to the efforts of only on the part of the private sector. The government has yet to do much for giving a boost to this sector. Keeping in view a wide range of adventure products, Nepal can be the number one adventure tourist destination in the world.
However, the private sector’s efforts geared towards tourism development have also not been so organised and systematic. We have the tendency of adopting new concepts such as eco-tourism and spa tourism, and looking for innovative products only when our existing packages stop attracting tourists.
In my opinion, the government and the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) need to carry out researches on products, and lay much focus only on the most viable and potential products. We have been selling trekking and mountaineering for years without conducting any research and study. If researches prove the feasibility of sex-tourism or spa tourism, why do we not go for it? But this does not mean that we should go for sex-tourism. What I mean to say is that we must opt for research-based products.
We have a number of challenges to tackle if we really want to develop tourism into a mainstay of the national economy. Although we often make tall talks about our tourism, but we have yet to pay any due attention towards infrastructural development. We have failed to improve the condition of the only international airport—Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). For example, tourists are forced to use very old and rickety taxis once they land at the airport.
Diversifying our tourism products is another challenge. In our decades long tourism history, we have developed limited destinations—Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan. Having new products is not possible without developing infrastructure. Because of lack of good road, it takes more than six hours for tourists to reach Pokhara from Kathmandu. Traffic jams are another serious problem. No successive governments have realised the importance of tourism. Despite being based on domestic products and human resources, tourism has not been recognised as a national industry.
Apart from this, our air access to major tourist generating countries and international tourist hubs is very limited. Even in such a situation, we have failed to strengthen our national flag carrier—Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC).
It is ironic that we want to bring in more international tourists even without developing basic infrastructures like roads and electricity and enhancing the national flag carrier.
As a tourism entrepreneur, how have you assessed the ongoing Nepal Tourism Campaign 2011 (NTY 2011)?
We must take national tourism campaigns like NTY 2011 in a positive light. But I think that the NTY Secretariat has been unable to bring all the tourism entrepreneurs together. This means the industry as a whole has not felt a sense of ownership.
In addition to this, the team has completely failed to advertise Nepal as a tourist destination abroad.
Another lacking thing is that the national tourism campaign does not have any special package to offer to the tourists.
There are a number of associations related to tourism in the country. But it is said that there is no proper coordination among them. What do you say about this?
I think that Nepal is the only country where the number of associations, including tourism-related ones, is the highest. Even the tourism associations have not been able to go together. As we are divided, we are weakened. Because we are in the same boat, we have to focus on mutual cooperation and coordination. We need to stand united and move ahead hand in hand. We should come up with common agendas because our only objective is to promote the tourism sector. When all the associations raise a single voice, the government is bound to listen to it. So, all the associations must strengthen mutual relations for the development of the tourism industry.
Being a young and promising entrepreneur, what message do you want to convey to fellow investors?
I would like to call upon all the young entrepreneurs to be serious, committed and honest. I also request them to explore possibilities and cultivate the habit of taking things positively. What we need is to understand that we cannot be successful without taking any risk. So, we should be ready to invest our resources within the country.
We must stop blaming only the politicians. We have a lot of opportunities in the country. We need to remain effortful in retaining the educated as well as energetic youths in the country. If the current trend of brain-drain continues, the country will suffer most. We, the youths, must shoulder the responsibility of building our nation.
How do you see the country’s political process?
Political uncertainty in the country has hit the entire development process. Peace and stability are the key to economic and social progress. So, all the political parties should materialise their slogan of ‘political consensus’ and develop the culture of cooperation and unity. We need a lot of foreign investments in infrastructure development in the country. We will be unable to take both foreign and national investors in confidence unless we have a political stability and peace.
Finally, you are quite busy in your business and social activities. How have you managed time to do comedy?
As an adage goes: there is a way, when there is a will. Performing in comedies has been one of my hobbies. I love to take part in such shows. When I find the opportunity to make others laugh, this is the happiest moment in my life. Besides, I enjoy helping the helpless children.