The city of Cape Town rose to prominence after European traders started trading with the East in the 15th century and now, it is a bustling commercial center. Its tourism has not only made a significant contribution to the Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Income of South Africa but has also improved the livelihood of millions. Cape Town, a city with a population of about four million is very similar to the Greater Kathmandu Capital Region. It receives over ten million tourists a year, both domestic and foreign. Its V & A Waterfront received over 25 million visitors last year and over one million visitors used the cable car which takes visitors to the top of the Table Mountain. By branding the Table Mountain as one of the world’s seven new wonders of nature, South Africans have been able to recalibrate their country as a serious tourism destination. So what lessons can Cape Town offer to Nepal?
Treating them right
I remember vividly hearing the tourists in Benaras, India being refered to as ATM cards. Things are not very different in Nepal where vendors, cabbies, guides and agents do not want to let go of any opportunity to make an extra rupee from a tourist. On the contrary, in Cape Town, people treat tourism as a long-term sustainable source of their income rather than an easy route for short-term gains. Service, therefore, plays a crucial role in leaving a long lasting positive mark on visitors.
In Kathmandu, the people who collect the entry fees at heritage sites are basically groups that have been able secure the tender to do so by using the right connections. There is no incentive for them to deliver better service because they thrive on the different ways of making additional money; most likely, they make more money than they pay to various agencies as rent.
When the earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, we wanted data on how many people had actually entered the Patan Durbar Square then. But we could not get hold of any statistics as the municipality is only concerned with the annual fee they received which is fixed and the contractor designated to collect fees is only interested in maximising its gains. But tourist information and behaviour is key to determining future marketing initiatives. Sadly, we in Nepal are content with spending tourism promotion dollars by erecting eyesore gates at the airport or conduting events that the world is not even aware about.
Meanwhile in Cape Town, unlike in many tourist spots of South Asia, we were never bugged by people trying to cheat us by selling worthless packages or people carrying children deliberately kept hungry and selling souvenirs. The souvenirs were available at reasonable prices without the fleecing mindset of many tourism destinations. In Cape Town, they have to fight the negative image of crimes in South Africa. People there are being trained to walk that extra mile to make tourists feel welcome.
Entrepreneurs in Nepal should also consider opening fixed price souvenir shops at key tourist spots. This would save the tourists from the fear of being cheated and also give them more assurance of quality, quantity and pricing instead of being at the mercy of the guide who is more interested in his commission than giving the tourists the best deal. The lesser time the tourist spends on haggling for taxi, products or services, the higher the chances of them visiting the country again. The problem in Nepal is: we have created so many cartels in the tourism industry in the last 25 years that some people know more about the nuances of the elections to the cartels than tourism products and services.
Quality is key
The advent of cartel-driven pricing system in Nepal has changed the way trekking industry has evolved. Similarly, the advent of service charges started at the behest of the labour unions and some industrialists. This has created an environment in Nepal where productivity and efficiency in the hospitality industry does not matter at all. The myopia of some entrepreneurs coupled with the pseudo-militant behaviour of the labour unions have created a huge gap in tourism services. Nepal has stagnated even as global tourism industry is being more efficient. The current breed of hospitality industry students observe cheap tea bags being used for tea in leading five star hotels in Nepal. Such practices are basically giving them a wrong orientation of quality and teaching them that one can get away with anything here. People associated with tourism need to deliver tourism products at par with other parts of the world where tourists are charged similar prices.
Finally, it is also important that the overall infrastructure is commensurate with the growth of tourism. The urban planning of tourism centers is equally important. In Nepal, instead of stopping unplanned development of Kathmandu we instead replicated it with full vigour in Pokhara, Sauraha and now in Bardiya and Lumbini. It is important that we develop our tourism destinations based on a strongplan. Towards that end, we could begin by stopping all land transactions around Rara Lake and make it a world class tourism destination. There can always be a new beginning.