All the Nepalis, with whom I ever discussed the problems of tourism in their country, reacted the same way: “It’s nonsense – tourists have been coming and will be coming.”
And I agree with them – they will be coming. The questions are: 1) Who will be coming? 2) How many will be coming? And the answers to these questions seem quite disappointing to me.
You have to understand two simple things: a) Many countries are developing, progressing and creating more and more attractive conditions, infrastructure, facilities for tourism; b) Nepal has been a poor and dirty appendage of the Himalayas, and it still is. Although tourists used to put up with the dirt, poverty and indifference to their comfort from the Nepalese, with each year it becomes harder and harder to do that. With each year Nepal looks more and more terribly and disgusting compared to other countries, which means that the contingent of tourists coming here increasingly shifts towards poor backpackers, who save every penny. Will they bring a lot of money to the budget of Nepal?
Nepalis believe in tourism as one believe in God: they don’t and won’t understand – where tourists come from and why they come here. They wouldn’t lift a finger to make Nepal more interesting for tourists – this also applies to the government, and hoteliers and restaurateurs, as well as private individuals. For the Nepalese the tourism is a kind of “cargo cult”. Hoteliers think as follows: “I will build a hotel, put a price of $200 per room, and tourists will come.” They don’t and won’t understand that tourists do not want to live in small, dark and dirty rooms with terrible noise outside and lousy service inside. Restaurateurs reason as follows: “I will open a restaurant and tell my friends about it, and tourists will come.” They don’t and won’t understand that tourists are already sick of this poor quality and monotonous food. And often literally sick, given the blatant unsanitary conditions prevailing in the kitchens of Nepalese restaurants. Individuals think: “I will scatter rubbish around me, spit and expectorate everywhere, shout “Namaste” to the tourists tired of shouting and train my children to do the same, I will honk my car’s horn to drive tourists off the road in Thamel and wake them up at night – and won’t care a damn”.
Ten years ago, I visited a place that used to be a mecca of tourism: the city of Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir. There also is a picturesque lake, like that in Pokhara. All this lake is crowded with numerous guest houseboats. Just like before, with one exception: there are no longer any tourists there. Because tourists got tired. They are tired of Kashmiris having religious and political clashes with each other instead of supporting tourism, and one day Srinagar became suddenly empty. Tourists were indeed fed up. And why the Nepalis think Kathmandu and Pokhara will not suffer the same fate? I’ll tell you why. Because they just do not want to think about it. No secret for anybody in Nepal that in 20 years the Phewa Lake, the focus of tourist life in Pokhara, will simply disappear, turning into a dirty and smelly swamp. Do you think anyone cares? If they do, they are hiding their concern very skilfully and look quite peacefully, repeating the mantra: “have been coming and will be coming “.
The Government of Nepal also raves about the same mantra, adding to it some unrealistic plans like “to achieve a million tourists per year soon.” What are these dreams based on? On the same mantra and the same cargo-cult “have been coming and will be coming and even more will be.” Why? No matter. They will. And no one in the government is ever concerned that in Kathmandu tourists simply smother with smog, noise and dust, that there is simply no place to sit or walk in fresh air – there are no fresh air or silence, or even places where you can walk. Nobody cares about the same situation in Pokhara, despite the wonderful nature very close by: the spurs of the Himalayas, lakes Phewa, Begnas and others. Tourists in Pokhara have nowhere to go, no place to walk, nothing to do. No one cares. “Have been coming and will be coming” – everyone repeats it like a sleepwalker.
Dear Nepalis. I regret to inform you that your country may at any time simply become a bore to all the tourists. They will get tired, eventually, of the stench, noise, dirt, poverty and total disregard for their interests. The Himalayas are beautiful, but do you think they are not beautiful from China side? Or do you think that the Chinese do not have enough money and brains to build a great tourist industry on their side of Mount Everest? In this case, think about it again, especially in connection with the railway to that Mount Everest, which China is now starting to design and build. To prevent tourists from abandoning Nepal, it is necessary to take urgent and drastic measures. At least the Ministry of Tourism should be headed by a man with great energy, intelligence, understanding of business, tourism, marketing, and with a very wide powers. For example, a man like me. I would say that he should have almost dictatorial powers to overcome the obstacles which are the don’t-care attitude of Nepalis and corruption. The man should come from the outside, but in no case from Nepal. And if such a person starts to properly exploit the natural resources you have got, a million and twenty million tourists will come here pouring cash flows into your economy. I understand that this will never happen, because all Nepalis are very fond of their uniqueness, but I wanted to speak up.