Keeping promises in tourism development : Anil Lama

6th Jul, 2018 | Tourism Mail Crew

The Society of Travel and Tour Operators Nepal is an association of tourism entrepreneurs engaged in the travel and tour business. It is a 10-year-old organization that has been engaged for the growth and development of the tourism sector in the country and has been conducting promotional activities for tourism destinations in Nepal. We sat down with SOTTO President, Anil Lama, in order to gain some insight into the organization.

Q: Please tell us something about SOTTO.

A: The Society of Travel and Tour Operators Nepal is originally a resistance organization, born out of a time when syndicates were the norm. With those beginnings, we worked for two years before being officially registered. We have been operating for 10 years. Some groups say that SOTTO started out as an organization separating from the existing NATTA, which is true to an extent, as the organization did not address the little issues and details. By now, SOTTO has been through 5 president tenures.

Q: There are currently three travel and tour associations operating in Nepal, NATTA, NATO, and SOTTO. Do you really think so many of them are necessary in such a small field?

A:  No, I don’t believe there is a need for that many organizations. The manifesto of our previous presidents also mentioned the idea of merging with the existing organizations, and that idea has existed for a while. If a single organization had managed to address all the voices and demands, then this would not have been the case. But the existence of multiple organizations has also been necessary in that each organization can raise the voice for different issues at any one time. For that, each organization must have a different agenda to delve into, which is not the case for Nepal. We have been pushing the idea for a while now, but now I feel that we can make more of a difference by staying separate than by merging.

Q: What do you think can be done to make SOTTO even better and effective?

A: The main thing is that our industry has very few literate people. Due to this, the newer generation feels that their investments in their sector might be risky. So, the first order is that the new generation to enter the industry in general must have good knowledge about this industry. Another thing is that ethical practices have never been quite prevalent in this business, and it might look not as appealing from the outside. This must be remedied. Similarly, if this industry were to have a number of highly knowledgeable people in the industry with new tools and ideas then it would make this business climb new heights.

Q: It is the aim of the current government to bring in 1.5 million tourists by the year 2020. What is SOTTO doing to help in fulfilling this aim?

A: Firstly, I do not think it is a big deal for Nepal to attract 1.5 million tourists by 2020. Nepal has been gaining international attention since the years after the earthquake of 2015 and I think that tourist numbers will continue to grow well after 2020, maybe even until 2024. Of course, if we fail to make the internal assessments and adjustments to maintain that trend, our tourist intake will definitely go down again. SOTTO believes that in order to increase tourist intake, more than air route, we must stress the development of the land route and focus on bringing more tourists from our neighboring countries. In our recent promotional tour to Khaptad, we extended our itinerary as far as Dehradun in Uttarakhand, and Rishikesh, in order to attract possible tourists from India. In addition to that, we are conducting a Sales Mission in India in collaboration with the Nepal Tourism Board and Nepal Airlines, targeting 3 major Indian cities, which have been major source of tourists for Nepal every year.

Q: What do you think should be done for the holistic development of tourism in Nepal?

A: The government has never given the tourism sector the due attention and priority that it needed. A lot of the effort that has gone into the industry is from the private sector. There is no system of accountability or record-keeping in the government’s works and as a result they are unable to even predict the numbers for a travel fair that might be organized.

In the private sector as well, there is the need for more loyalty. It is necessary to set a format for the industry, and to take each individual sub-set of the tourism industry individually, from trekking, nature tourism, or even gastronomical tourism. If we are able to separate each individual branch of tourism and pursue specialization in individual branches, we can contribute more to the industry. If we begin to pursue individual specializations, we can make new creations, produce specialists in the sector who have deep knowledge in the individual sector who can see the pass as well as the future with the sector.

Q: The country has been divided into 7 states. How can SOTTO, as well as the travel and tourism business, be promoted in all the different states?

A: We are definitely positive about developing into the different states. As an organization, it is a necessary progression for us to go state-wise just as the country does. As far as the travel and tour industry goes, I think it is necessary to divide faculties and to take forward the service industry, maybe even giving the travel and tour sector a new name. For example, we need to study and discover what kind of tourists Pokhara city attracts, and market accordingly. The local governments and local people have to invest in developing their local resources and local destinations. I believe it is absolutely necessary to encourage and mobilize the local people and the local resources to develop tourism in the country.

Q: What sort of relationship does SOTTO have with the government, and the government industries including the Nepal Tourism Board and others?

A: SOTTO’s relationship with the government level is good at this point. The NTB sees that SOTTO successfully undertakes any mission that it takes part in. The NTB especially appreciates our domestic tourism promotion works that we conducted for the Rarabas to Rara trip, and Lumbini to Swargdwari trip, which were highly impactful. In the case of Rara, the destination has gone from attracting 5000 – 6000 tourists, to attracting around 70,000 tourists yearly. As far as the central and the state level goes, they have acknowledged our efforts at promoting the Khaptad area, of which we are shortly producing an itinerary as well. We are releasing the itinerary at the same local area through the hands of the Chief Minister. Our cooperation with the government is slowly increasing, and the government sector is definitely taking notice of SOTTO.

Q: In your view, what improvements must be made to develop tourism and increase tourist intake in our country ?

A: I think it is important to focus on the development of infrastructure. Especially since the earthquake, it is necessary to fix the state of our infrastructure. With the current situation, it is natural to face a little bit of dust and pollution, but it is important to ensure that this does not drag on, and that the construction works are finished on time. As far as loyalty, services and hospitality go, we Nepalis are definitely ahead. I keep hearing from people who have been abroad that our hospitality culture is better. Political stability is also an important need for our country right now. Another important point is, it is necessary to develop our national carrier Nepal Airlines. I have seen that in foreign countries, the citizens put a lot of trust and faith in their national carrier as it runs to a higher standard than other airlines. Nepal Airlines must also maintain the trust it has from the people. I don’t really see the need for any major changes, but I think paying attention to the small things is important.

Q: Finally, do you have any final message that you want to say to the young readers out there?

A: I wish to say to the youngsters who are interested in this industry, as an entrepreneur, that entrepreneurship is necessary in each individual. If you are interested in this industry, come into it with research and background information. This is a long-term business, in which investments may take a long time to show results. If you have the patience for it and a vision to bring some change in the industry, then as the President of SOTTO, I am willing to provide any resources I can give to help.