The Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAAN) is one of the prominent names in the trekking sector of Nepal. It was established in 1979 to work for the improvement of Nepal’s trekking industry. In the last 40 years, TAAN has become a trusted facilitator among trekking agencies and other organisations, evident from its ever-growing family of 1800 members, and counting. TAAN even acts as a mediator among trekking companies and unions, and plays an instrumental role in relaying the issues raised by the trekking industry to the policymakers and the concerned government bodies of the country.

Nava Raj Dahal, president of TAAN, has been actively involved in Nepal’s tourism sector for 27 years now and is also the Honorary Consul for Consulate of Estonia in Nepal. In conversation with OnlineKathmandu, Dahal talks about TAAN and shares his concerns about Nepal’s trekking and tourism industry. Excerpts:

Bridging the gap

Nepal is one of the ideal destinations in the world to experience adventure tourism, especially in the field of trekking and hiking. So working with tourism-related organisations, TAAN can focus on promoting and systematically managing the various aspects of trekking and adventure for the betterment of the sector and all the stakeholders involved. It is our duty to work in closely with the relevant government bodies and private organisations to offer the best possible solutions to problems that hinder the growth of tourism, and to ensure that the concerns and issues of the member agencies and stakeholders are addressed by policymakers when devising any plans and policies regarding the sector, like for example, tax issues.

TAAN in collaboration with Nepal Tourism Board, introduced the Tourist Information Management System (TIMS) card, which enables trekking companies to keep records of trekkers and to check illegal trekking activities.

Problems and prospects

 While I do believe that the numbers (of tourists) seem to be growing, such numbers are insignificant to revenue generation if those numbers do not have any quality to them. And by quality, I mean tourists who want to spend quality time and resources in enjoying the finest aspects of tourism in Nepal. These are tourists who are interested in travelling or trekking to many destinations and partaking in a host of activities, and who will always return for more. Such tourists are very particular about the services that they choose. So it is also important that the service providers are capable of providing best quality services to such guests.

 Also, now that the country has entered a federal structure, proper coordination between the tiers of local governing bodies is crucial when formulating and implementing new plans and policies to boost tourism development. Policymakers should be careful of any adverse effect their hasty actions could cause in the sector. For example, just before Dashain (which is also the peak season for tourism), there was a sudden hike in the permit fees without prior notice. For trekking companies like ours that work on the basis of prebooked packages months before the actual visit, such sudden developments affect the predetermined package cost and may even cause cancellations.

Moreover, the haphazard collection of permit and entry fees to various locations is a huge turnoff for tourists who will get worn out by having to stop and pay for the same thing repeatedly. So it is important that the governing bodies and officials coordinate with each other and regularly monitor such activities so that the visitors are not swindled in the name of tourism. We suggest that there be a common system to keep things simple and convenient for visitors.

Be responsible

Sometimes in an attempt to avoid high costs of travel and save, tourists and trekkers often forgo professional assistance. Without registering any record of their contact details or insuring themselves, they casually set off on treks, which are of course remote, either alone or with people who have no knowledge whatsoever about the travel plan. Because of such irresponsible acts, illegal setups have established themselves in the market and have disrupted the flow of revenue generation of the concerned stakeholders, jeopardising the business opportunities of law-abiding companies and employment opportunities of professional guides and porters who have worked so hard to obtain their licenses. Moreover, this jeopardises the safety and security of the tourists themselves.

We have tried to attract the government’s attention to control such illegal institutions, but until that happens, we sincerely urge travellers to abide by trekking rules and regulations, which are there for a reason. They should use a licensed trekking company to plan their adventure and seek proper travel guidance from licensed guides or porters.

Accelerating growth

The trekking sector faces a great many challenges along with the great prospects it holds. To tackle such problems and make advancements in the sector, I firmly believe that following are some issues that need to be duly addressed.

In a country like ours, which is prone to natural disasters, the trekking trails and hiking routes, roads, bridges are repeatedly damaged. Even the heritage sites and antiquities that are unique suffer damage. So while we cannot control the forces of nature, the concerned bodies can at least speed up the maintenance process so that we can allow travellers to continue to explore as many such areas as possible. The slower the process, the higher the chance of losing potential tourists. And TAAN has also been pressurising the concerned bodies time and again to address these matters seriously.

While development of the infrastructure is an important aspect of tourism development, I believe policymakers should prioritise plans. Those that can draw immediate yet positive results should be addressed as soon as possible. For instance, expansion of the international airport, maintenance of roads and bridges, providing alternative trails to various destinations, improvement of communication services in remote locations, management of proper shelters for porters, and so on.

The government should also be more flexible in creating an environment to encourage investors. When foreign travellers come to our country, they should genuinely feel that they have made an excellent choice in choosing our country as a travel destination, that they are safe from harm and are not victim to any scams or faulty information.

Lastly, adopting an effective promotion mechanism is crucial. It’s not enough that only we glorify our country as an ideal tourist destination among ourselves. The world beyond us should also have access to information about our country. The world has gone digital and so should we.

That’s also why we regularly urge concerned bodies to take proper research, reviews and expert opinions into consideration so that their policies benefit the country, service providers and service seekers all as much as possible. I’m hopeful of the fact that the present government system has officials who have actually contributed to the tourism sector and are knowledgeable about its intricacies representing the tourism department and the Ministry of Tourism. And since the tourism sector has more potential to provide a quick return on investment than others such as hydro or agriculture, tourism development can significantly contribute to the country’s economic prosperity.

Also available on the III Issue of Online Kathmandu, Free E magazine.