On the 39th Annual General Meeting of TAAN held on October 29, Mr Navaraj Dahal became the newly elected president of TAAN. Initially established to develop mountain tourism in Nepal, Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) is now the umbrella association for all the trekking agencies in Nepal which works for the rights and benefits of trekking entrepreneurs and to promote tourism in trekking. Our correspondent Situ Manandhar had an opportunity to interview Mr. Dahal through TAAN Media Coordinator Gopal Shrestha regarding trekking and tourism in Nepal where she explored his response toward tourism and plans for the association in the future.
Q: You have been elected for about two and a half months now. What are the challenges and problems you see in the trekking sector of Nepal and what initiatives have you taken to overcome this problem?
A: Nowadays, thousands of illegal business and websites are seen in trekking businesses which has resulted in unhealthy competition. The number of tourists is very less and quality tourism has also decreased. Tourist bus parking and restrooms are also lacking in many places.
Some tourists prefer trekking alone without guides and porters. And there are many cases where the tourists are lost and found in accidents or in worst cases, dead. So, we had a meeting with the Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation about taking at least one guide and porter from a renowned institute when going to a certain height or altitude and they were positive to implement it. We’ve also seen tour packages being costlier due to tourist transportation and if government helps us in this, the problem can be solved.
While hiking at Shivapuri National Park, hiking guides are taken from NATHM. But the National Park has demanded compulsion to take local guides too, increasing the cost of hiking with an unnecessary extra guide and about immigration, the permit fee is costly and the process is very lengthy. So, tourists have to stay long time for gaining permit. So we talked and delegated with the DG about this issue and he seemed positive in changing this immoral practice by implementing a more effective policy. We have planned to open counters in Annapurna-Manaslu conservation area regarding permit facility.
We’ve also seen tourist paying extra permit fees so the facility of travelling from one place to another with one permit should be implemented because at some places tourists have to pay 2 permit fees travelling to only one place. Similarly, tourists have to cross many village municipalities and most of the village municipalities will charge Rs 2000 or more for permit which is very costly for tourists resulting in less tourists in that place so we are determined to change this practice.
NTNC also increased 13% VAT which has taken TAAN into loss but this rule doesn’t seem to change because it has been in practice for too long from Finance Ministry and Tax Department.
Tribhuvan International Airport should be secured and tourist hospitality should also be increased.
Q: What are your agendas and further plans to promote tourism and trekking in Nepal?
A: We have three main agendas:
Suitable Policy Implementation: We have talked with the CEO of Nepal Tourism Board for increasing tourism promotion in Nepal. He seemed positive about the partnership with TAAN as TAAN has been promoting mountain tourism for many years. TAAN has also plans to promoting tourism both nationally and internationally so it is planning to organize a program to promote the tourism business internationally with the help of national and international media
Issues regarding permit fee as mentioned earlier should be solved wisely, VISA should be modernized and strict action should be taken against illegal websites and businesses in this trekking sector to completely eradicate it from its root. VAT issues should be solved efficiently.
Reconstruction of old trekking routes routes and searching of possible new routes in tourist destinations is another motive of TAAN. TAAN will also help to make shelter for tourism worker.
Q: What is the ongoing issue between TAAN and Tourism Board regarding the TIMS amount?
A: The TIMS fee is distributed 30% to TAAN, 30% to the Tourism Board and 10% to workers but it is believed that the TIMS amount has been misused against the aim of its actual purpose so Tourism Board has been holding the TIMS amount of TAAN from the past year and this has economically weakened TAAN.
In today’s context, the TIMS amount can not only benefit TAAN but also the whole nation and tourists so a team has been formed in TAAN for TIMS’s issue and there was a discussion with the Tourism Board regarding the issue. The discussion resulted in positive result and the Tourism Board has accepted to provide the given TIMS amount to TAAN so the relation of TAAN and Tourism Board is improving overally. Tourism Board will also help TAAN in other sectors.
Q: After the earthquake of 2015, the foreigner still believes that Nepal is unsafe. How can we convince that now Nepal is completely safe?
A: We need to promote Nepali tourism more broadly and convince foreigners that now Nepal is completely safe to visit. By using international media we can inform that not all the places of Nepal were destructed but the earthquake only affected some places badly. Most of the trekking routes that were destroyed have been renovated and about 90% of them have started to operate. However, the tourism sector is increasing in 2016 and 2017 compared to 2015 and the increasing number of tourists is positive but we must still work on increasing the number of tourists in the trekking field.
Q: How is TAAN searching for new routes?
A: TAAN is searching for new routes in places where we see increased tourism attraction.
We have searched a new route in Dudhkanda area and from there we can get a distinct and scenic view of Sagarmatha mountain and we are determined to find many more important and interesting routes in different locations in Nepal. Another thing is that tourists don’t just come to see Mt Everest and Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal so we must promote western areas of Nepal too so we will be promoting the art, culture and natural beauty of the western parts of Nepal and hereby we are determined to find new trekking routes in the western areas too.
Q: How is skilled manpower produced in this field?
A: Nepal Trekking Association regularly conducts many training for good climbing guide. NATHM also gives a 45-day training for guides. For skillful porter, we have demanded new course because the old course doesn’t fulfill the demand of this modern world of technology. TAAN itself has recently organized a high altitude training for skilled manpower contributing in this field.
Q: Is TAAN influenced by politics?
A: Professional activities should be initiated in this association but from the past years we have seen it being influenced by politics. We see less trekking operators and more politics influenced person but I have been involved in trekking sector for many years and at that time issues were raised in professional ways but in the past year the issues were raised in political ways. This is wrong and we will try to overcome this problem and hope that at the end of these two years we may hear that TAAN is free of political influence and is a professional institute. There should be cooperation between all the institutions involved in tourism sector so considering unity as the main lead TAAN now has 25 members in board committee from different states of Nepal covering about 7 states and we are determined to go in unity with our team as well as other institutions involved in the tourism sector.