April 14, 2015 Sujeev Shakya

A Wish for New Year’s

Another Nepali New Year begins, beginning a fresh year as per the Bikram Sambat era, the official calendar of Nepal. Each year, for the 25 years since the first Janaandolan in 1990, the New Year has been celebrated amidst strikes, political upheavals, and wrangling. At times, the New Year has provided a respite during prolonged political stalemates. Not much has changed this time, as the political parties and Nepali society continue to try and figure out how to get out of the current quagmire.

Celebrating the New Year is not a new phenomenon; the way it is celebrated has changed. The first day of the New Year was always important—family outings, visiting temples, and many other social events. It was not unusual to find Kathmandu Valley folk hiking to the hilltops. The New Year still continues to be one of the few days when Kathmandu folk decide to discover their own valley. But now, New Year eve celebrations are similar to those during the Gregorian calendar New Year.

Syncing the Years

It was not too long ago that Thailand converted its water-spraying Songkran festival (also celebrated as the first day of the year, as Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit word, samkranti) into a popular event for tourists. The same is possible in Nepal, as there are many traditional festivals based on the lunar calendar that coincide with the solar calendar-based New Year celebrations. The most prominent among them is Bisket Jatra in Bhaktapur and this year, both the Seto Machhendranath Jatra in Kathmandu and Rato Machhendranath Jatra in Patan are taking place at the same time.

Our tourism calendar is generally planned along an annual basis, as we tend to get interested in the years only from the standpoint of annual holidays. We have yet to see calendars like the Gregorian one, which provides perspective for many years to come. Generally, every three years, when an ‘additional/lunar month’ is added to the lunar calendar, many festivals coincide with the solar calendar too.

Many communities celebrate the first day of the calendar year in their own ways. In the Tarai, there are many who worship the sun god on this occasion. Easter holiday week too is a time in the year when people take longer breaks combining the holiday weekend. Therefore, if we can draw up a five-year calendar for tourism, we can explore the years when events like the Bisket Jatra will be linked to the New Year and thus, can be planned for.

The growth in domestic tourism has been phenomenal in the past two decades, and as Nepali families get more nuclear and children discover the thrill of exploring new places, the holiday season for children will add to another dimension to tourism. In terms of the weather, this time of the year is, again, one of the best.

New Opportunities

One of the most beautiful parts of this season is the blooming flowers. In many parts of the world, such spring-time blooms are important tourist attractions, both domestic and international. From the cherry blossom festivals to the tulip festivals, there are many such celebrations that dot the global tourism map. It is time for Nepal to also think of what can work in terms of creating such events. Folks in the floriculture industry, here is a great opportunity to explore.

We will see the Nepali tourism industry crossing the chasm only when we become more service-oriented. As more Nepalis who have gone abroad to work in the hospitality industry return, Nepali consumers are going to benefit. Outlets will start staying open for 24 hours, seven days a week and it will become possible to get nice meals at night. We need to remember that the new Hammad International Airport in Qatar has a large population of Nepalis who are providing world-class service. They can be motivated to do the same in their own country. At least, the know-how will have transferred. It is only a matter of time.

Understanding, Taking Risks

Often, it is discussed, especially in developing countries, as to how people in government, including politicians, are the last to understand the tourism business. There are always fewer of them who actually have an interest in spending on tourism. Most of their trips are sponsored or arrangements are made so that their trips are different from that of a normal tourist. Therefore, their understanding of tourism products and opportunities can be vastly different from that of the target market for the industry. In many countries, this has been cited as an obstacle in terms of the development of tourism products and services.

Tourism is generally driven by pioneers, be it people like Karna Sakya, who brought tourism to Thamel, or Ambika Shrestha, who made heritage conservation a business opportunity. Nanglo changed how Nepalis ate out and Shyam Kakshapati pioneered the concept of highway resorts by starting one in Kurintar. Similarly, we can now see newer products being developed by passionate entrepreneurs. The new Gorkha Gaun resort in Gorkha is a classic example of how one can push passion into business. Therefore, we will need more people to work on concepts and passionate entrepreneurs to realise their dreams. While the Nepali New Year is not known for making resolutions, it would be good to think of just how this period can be leveraged for tourism in the near future.

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