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Making Visit Lumbini Year 2012 a Success (Published on Nepalnews.com)

Nepal Tourism Year 2011 brought 735,965 visitors to the country. The aim of Visit Lumbini Year 2o12 is to attract 1 million visitors. Organizing a tourism year back to back presents a unique challenge for Nepal’s tourism officials and I want to offer my suggestions to hold a successful Visit Lumbini Year 2012.  To make this year’s tourism campaign a success, I believe we need to take a holistic approach and strategically promote Lumbini. The feat of this campaign will not only depend on planning and advertising by the tourism officials but also on the wholehearted support from the government as well as the citizens.

Since we just had Visit Nepal 2011, I believe most people who will visit Nepal this year will probably be first time visitors and might have booked the trip to see Lumbini or other places in Nepal. There is a certain way to position this tourism campaign before travelers land at the airport in Nepal and also when they are already in the country. Tourism officials can act on these suggestions and hopefully leverage them to make this year’s Lumbini campaign a real success.

At Tribhuvan airport, I observed various visitor touch points that can be leveraged to better promote this year’s tourism efforts.  Before travelers land at Tribhuvan airport, the airline flight attendant can hand a one page handout about Lumbini along with the Customs Declaration form.  People who were already planning to go to Lumbini will have more information on their hands and people who did not know about Lumbini will get to learn about it. Second, coming towards the Customs area at the airport, currently there is a big banner mentioning its Visit Nepal 2011. This should be replaced with Visit Lumbini Year 2012. Lastly, there should be a Visitor Center that travellers can go to in order to learn more about Lumbini or other places in Nepal. This booth will serve as a place where tourists can have their questions answered, get maps or any additional information that would help make their stay enjoyable.

Once visitors are already in Nepal, promoting tourism to Lumbini should follow different strategies. First, most tourists generally stay at hotels during their visit to Nepal so hotels should be ready to explain the significance of Lumbini to their guests and they can partner with travel agencies to offer tour packages to Lumbini. Second, the tourism organizing committee should place ads on popular English dailies such as The Himalayan Times and The Kathmandu Post to further promote the tourism campaign. Travel agencies can also advertise on such English newspapers offering packages and deals to Lumbini. When I travel around Kathmandu, I hardly noticed a billboard or sign promoting this year’s tourism efforts. There is hardly any public notice that makes you aware that it is Visit Lumbini Year 2012. So third, I would suggest placing billboards and signs in high traffic areas such as Thamel, Kings Way, Kalanki, Koteswor, New Baneshwore or Chahabil which would draw eyeballs and increase awareness of this year’s tourism campaign to visit Lumbini. This strategy would also encourage domestic residents to visit Lumbini.

Another way to attract tourists and domestic residents to Lumbini is by highlighting the significance of the place. Lumbini is significant for the birth of Buddhism and its spiritual meaning provides visitors a compelling reason to visit the area. I could see high profile individuals such as Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon whose visit to Lumbini could really highlight the importance of the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Ban Ki-moon who is the son of a devout Buddhist woman had indicated in his first visit to Nepal that he was interested in visiting the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Having an international figure such as Ban Ki-moon visit Lumbini would also reinforce that Lord Buddha was indeed born in Lumbini, Nepal. Bringing such high profile individuals to visit Lumbini would mean a huge success to the tourism organizing committee and to Nepal.

So, how do we measure if Visit Lumbini Year 2012 was successful? What types of analytics can we use to better understand visitor behavior? It was reported by Sangam Prasain on The Kathmandu Post (April 2, 2012) that the average per day spending by foreign tourists dropped to one of its lowest levels in the past decade. Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoTCA) reported that in 2003, the average spending per person per day was $79.10 (highest in ten years), $43.20 (2010) and $39.90 (2011). This means we have to understand why each visitor is spending less, how long does an average visitor stay in the country, what places did he/she go to, what would entice them to come back, etc. Some of these questions could have been answered if proper data collection and analytics were used for Nepal Tourism Year 2011. The tourism organizing committee can use those insights to facilitate better visitor experience.

Holding a tourism year consecutively presents various challenges. One of my concerns is that we could have used the feedback from visitors and businesses from last year’s tourism campaign and improved upon them before declaring another tourism year. For example, if we received a lot of responses that the conditions of our roads could be greatly improved, then we could have spent time fixing them before announcing another tourism campaign. Secondly, we have announced a tourism year but can we assure the safety of the visitors in the country. According to the website (www.nepalbandh.com), allegedly we had 168 bandhs (closings) in 2011 with 38 bandhs in May alone. If we cannot provide security to visitors let alone citizens and curb these bandhs, it will surely ruin the experience of travelers and the long-term impact will hamper our tourism efforts in the future.  Thus, the government and citizens alike should weigh the costs of bandhs and damage caused to the international reputation of Nepal.

All these simple strategies and suggestions listed above can contribute to a successful Visit Lumbini Year 2012. Making this year’s tourism efforts a success takes cooperation from tourism officials, businesses, the government and citizens. If visitors have a great experience during their time in Nepal, it will surely put our country in a positive limelight around the world.