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A new minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil aviation appointed

Yogesh Bhattarai Tourism minister of Nepal

A new minister of Culture, Tourism, and Civil aviation was appointed.

The vacant administration leadership at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil aviation were appointed after the then tourism minister Rabindra Adhikari’s unfortunate death in February 2019. After five months since the then minister’s demise, Mr Yogesh Bhattarai has been named the new Tourism minister after five months.

Mr Bhattarai’s appointment has come when building different airport projects. In addition, the “Visit Nepal Year 2020” tourism drive arrangement has been in stagnation; furthermore, the national carrier – Nepal airline corporation-has been struggling for survival financially.

In these circumstances, two journalists of a reputed English daily – The Himalayan Times (THT) caught up with the tourism minister to learn how he intends to address these concerns and push the country’s tourism sector.

Yogesh Bhattarai Tourism minister of Nepal

Interview with Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai. Photo: Naresh Shrestha/ THT

Photo: Naresh Shrestha/ THT

THT: You have been selected as the tourism minister at a critical period when the nation is grappling with accomplishing its tourism aims. What will be your topmost priorities?

Tourism Minister (TM): I am taking notes of all data currently associated with developing the ministry’s schemes and other obstacles prevalent in the nation’s tourism sector. We will develop a one-year work plan as soon as I gather crucial details on the current developments and hurdles from relevant bureaus, including the ministry. Presently the tourism sector contributes only seven per cent to the country’s GDP, while it has received nearly 1.2 million tourists. This is certainly unacceptable.

The tourism sector can play an indispensable role in reducing inequality economically, achieving sustainable growth, and promoting entrepreneurship. In addition, the tourism industry is significant in strengthening Nepal’s bilateral relations with different countries and reducing gender and social inequalities. Therefore the tourism industry has to be under the government’s planned preference indeed.

THT: What is your evaluation of the present difficulties facing the ‘country’s tourism sector?

Tourism Minister: There are immense obstacles. Fundamentally, the lack of a satisfactory and quality tourism foundation has always been the principal bottleneck for tourism trade growth. Likewise, the country’s tourism database and information movement are limited. As a result, we have not been able to generate enough tourism products while the existing products lack important branding, promotion on the international market with uniques selling points.

There is an urgent need to efficiently prepare all diplomatic agencies that Nepal has in various countries to market Nepal’s tourism sector. Alongside this, the government offices and the private sector will need to be mobilized efficiently. It is also evident that the tourism sector has not received the satisfactory precedence that it deserves. This will not occur during my tenure.

THT: Despite the nation commemorating the year 2020 as the “Visit Nepal year” to market tourism, the tourism fraternity appears unhappy with the preparations. How convinced are you?

Tourism Minister: It is true that the arrangements for the tourism campaign are slack and have not attained the level that they should have by now. One of the reasons behind this setback was the absence of political leadership at the ministry for the past five months. However, the department will now work on extra programs and packages to target the Visit Nepal Year 2020 campaign. All the programs will promote the nation’s tourism globally while coordinating with international media to promote Nepal’s tourism further.

Coordination with other globally distinguished tourism agencies and governments of different nations will make Visit Nepal 2020 a grand success.

THT: The national flag carrier – Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) has a vital role in promoting tourism. However, it has been grappling financially for the past few years. How do you plan for NAC to step up?

Tourism Minister: We have no other option than to step up our national flag carrier’s strength. We need to address the predicaments it is currently facing as Nepal Airlines and its services are directly linked to Nepal’s identity. Therefore, the initial step towards strengthening the national carrier will be to analyze the difficulties it has been facing in recent past years.

A research panel will be formed by me, whose job will be to recognize issues hindering NAC’s growth. Meantime, numerous studies have already been carried out concerning ‘NAC’s failure to operate as a competitive government bureau. Accordingly, the government will make necessary decisions concerning NAC’s operation modality based on past the report’s findings prepared under my leadership.

According to recommendations and necessity, we can either restructure NAC’s administration or bring in a strategic partner or even appoint a corporation’s management partner. Any modality that will be adopted for NAC will have to be result-oriented, and this factor will be kept in mind throughout when making any decision. Nepal Airlines Corporation has been supported financially by the government, but this trend has to be stopped and make it self sustainable. Minister Bhattarai claimed that he was optimistic that NAC’s predicament would rapidly improve its financial state and improve its services and management.

THT: How do you intend to approach the European ‘Union’s embargo on Nepalese airlines?

Tourism Minister: Unfortunately, the EU has continued to embargo Nepalese airlines’. Nepal has maintained strong bilateral relations with countries in the EU. Additionally, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, among other Eu nations, are those Nepal has its embassy in for decades. Consequently, Nepal will continue to strengthen its relationship with EU nations. One of the essential ways to do so would be by lifting the ICAO imposed a ban on Nepalese airlines, allowing them to expand their flights to EU countries.

I will work hard towards addressing all the concerns and questions raised by the EU during my tenure in the aviation sector. Moreover, my importance will be to get the ban imposed by the EU lifted. Minister Bhattarai said, “Moreover, my emphasis will be to lift the ban imposed by the EU on Nepal airlines by addressing their pressing matters through discussions and consultations with the EU and other stakeholders.

THT: The completion deadline of Gautama Buddha International Airport (GBIA) has been extended repeatedly. How positive are you that the new completion deadline of the GBIA in December will be met? Moreover, the necessary groundwork related to new air routes and flight operations has not been finalized at the airport yet.

Minister Bhattarai: The government has already achieved a few theories regarding the administration modality of GBIA. While the government has delivered its idea of the operation of BGIA through a government agency irrespective of the country it belongs to, a few international airport handling operation companies have expressed their interests in operating GBIA. In the meantime, a committee has been established to study related modalities for the operations of GBIA and finalize them at the earliest.

Once that is accomplished, we will work together with the related agencies to develop a business plan for GBIA. I intend to visit the site shortly to observe the progress and challenges of GBIA. Finally, we will finalize a work plan that ensures that the GBIA will start operations from the specified December deadline. It will be achieved together with the project team, which includes the contractor.

Discussions are underway regarding flight routes, with Indian authorities to allow flight routes via Nepalgunj and Mahendranagar.

Likewise, I am also obligated to ensure that the building of Pokhara Regional International Airport is advanced.

THT: In the meantime, the construction of the planned Nijgadh International Airport (NIA) has been controversial, mainly due to environmental issues. What is your plan for this project?

Minister Bhattarai: Concerning NIA’s development, I had already communicated my opinion in Parliament very recently. We do not have other options for NIA, and it has to be constructed. Nevertheless, we have highlighted the need for NIA for the past 24 years while still starting the project’s construction. I have assumed the leadership position at the ministry in the 25th year. I want to ensure that the foundation stone of NIA will be laid this year.