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Noble Studios Q&A: Sustainable Tourism with Mani Lamichhane, Director of the Nepal Tourism Board

By Jarrod Lopiccolo

March 26, 2024

Sustainable Tourism with Mani Lamichhane

Sustainable tourism is a cause that is close to my heart. 

At Noble Studios, we have worked with destinations like Visit Lake Tahoe, Visit San Luis Obispo and Tahiti Tourisme, where we have seen firsthand the positive impact that responsible tourism can have on local communities and the environment.

I want to share the story of one such individual, a new friend, Mani Lamichhane, the director of the Nepal Tourism Board, whom I had the pleasure of meeting during a transformative journey to Nepal.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mani at his office in Nepal, where we had a scheduled meeting to discuss our shared passion around sustainable tourism. Our conversation continued over coffee and it quickly became clear that we had a common vision for promoting responsible travel practices.

Mani’s extensive experience and deep knowledge of Nepal’s tourism industry resonated strongly with our values at Noble Studios. His commitment to sustainable tourism was not only evident in his words but also in the tangible actions and initiatives he and his team at the Nepal Tourism Board were undertaking.

Mani Lamichhane and Jarrod Lopiccolo in Nepal

Throughout our discussion, Mani provided valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by Nepal’s tourism sector, particularly in the wake of the devastating 2015 earthquake and the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic. 

He emphasized the importance of building resilience and adapting to the changing landscape of travel while prioritizing the well-being of local communities and the preservation of Nepal’s natural and cultural heritage.

What struck me most about Mani was his unwavering dedication to empowering local communities and ensuring that tourism growth benefits the people of Nepal. His passion for sustainable tourism was contagious, and I left our meeting inspired by the potential for collaboration to tell their story about promoting responsible travel practices worldwide.

In this Q&A, Mani delves into the evolving landscape of tourism marketing, the strategies Nepal employs to attract responsible travelers and the hidden gems that make this country such a captivating

Since you began with the Nepal Tourism Board in 2008, how have you seen tourism marketing evolve?

Since I joined the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), I have witnessed a paradigm shift in tourism marketing. It has evolved from traditional marketing to digital marketing, and now we are moving from digital to AI-driven marketing.

How important is digital marketing in reaching potential visitors, especially in Western countries like the US and UK?

Indeed, digital marketing plays a vital role in reaching potential visitors in Western countries like the US and UK. In this 21st century world, which is also called the world of digitalization, it is easier and more cost-effective to reach the niche market.

  • Digital marketing is constantly changing due to innovations. Digital marketing strategies are designed and implemented by all tourism entrepreneurs for marketing and sales-related activities and services, such as the promotion/sales of hotels, airline ticketing, destinations, restaurants, tourist sites, transportation services, tours, etc.
  • Most importantly, the tourism fairs and sales missions in Western countries like the US and UK are comparatively expensive as compared to the countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia. With the usage of digital mediums for marketing, authentic information can be disseminated effectively and efficiently with minimum cost.
  • With the help of digital marketing, it is easier to reach potential visitors with real-time interaction and instant booking, which is a hallmark of marketing as well as sales.
  • Digital marketing has also saved the cost of promotion and also made tourism products more competitive.
  • Millennials and Gen Z are super active on digital platforms.
himalayan oxen

Can you describe the typical visitor to Nepal and the types of travelers your team is working to attract?

The tourism products of Nepal cater to visitors of all ages from around the world. These products are so appealing that recently, a 2-year-old Scottish toddler named Carter Dallas became the youngest person to reach Everest’s base camp at 17,598 feet, carried on the back of his father, Ross Dallas. 

Countless tourism products across the country attract people of all age groups from all parts of the world throughout the year. In particular, young and middle-aged visitors tend to prefer adventure tourism, while senior citizens often opt for leisure and spiritual tourism.

According to pre-COVID-19 statistics from 2019, the age distribution of visitors was as follows:

  • 31-45 (32%)
  • 46-60 (25.5%)
  • 16-30 (21.2%)
  • 60+ (14.8%)
  • 0-15 (4.8%)
  • Not specified (1.6%)

The gender distribution was 53% male and 47% female.

The major tourism markets for Nepal in 2019, listed from highest to lowest, were:

  • India (21.2%)
  • China (14.2%)
  • USA (7.8%)
  • UK (5.1%)
  • Sri Lanka (4.7%)
  • Thailand (3.5%)
  • Australia (3.3%)
  • Germany (3.1%)
  • Myanmar (3.0%)
  • France (2.6%)
  • Others (28.5%)

Based on these facts, we are working to develop new markets by combining religion and adventure for Indian visitors. We are also targeting Buddhist pilgrimage markets in Southeast Asia, including China, Japan and South Korea.

The European market is predominantly an adventure tourism market combined with luxury. Recently, we have been promoting Nepali tourism activities based on the concept of Halal tourism.

In what ways is Nepal responding to the latest trends in global tourism?

Nepal is responding well to the latest trends in global tourism. We have observed an increase in solo travelers seeking to reconnect with nature, mind, body and soul. In this regard, Nepal boasts twelve National Parks, six Conservation Areas, two Wildlife Reserves and one Hunting Reserve. We are leveraging these natural assets to promote nature-based activities.

Furthermore, many people are subscribing to the theory of “Save the Planet” – achieving sustainable tourism development by protecting the environment and ecosystem. Travelers are adopting lifestyles that positively impact the environment. Recent data indicates that over 50 percent of tourists worldwide are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products, alternative energy sources and carbon emission offsetting.

We also closely monitor travel trends and preferences of potential travelers published by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and other reputable international organizations, using this information to shape our marketing campaigns accordingly.

In essence, we are entirely focused on showcasing Nepal’s exclusivity and delivering incredible, high-quality experiences to our visitors.

sagarmatha national park nepal gate

How do you promote Nepal’s diverse attractions while still highlighting iconic destinations like Everest?

It requires a dedicated balance to promote Everest and other areas of Nepal. While Everest is quite popular throughout the world, the rest of Nepal needs greater attention for promotion. We have devised promotional strategies in such a way that enthusiastic tourists around the world know that Nepal offers more than just mountains.

We are focusing on promoting the country’s diversity, such as its unique topography, geographical locations and flora and fauna that are available in various parts of the country. With this in view, we have launched various promotional programs, such as the Far-West Travel Mart, to publicize the new products of the far-western region. 

Similarly, we conducted the Eastern Travel Mart to highlight the diversity and uniqueness of the eastern region. We have also designed promotional activities targeting the mid-hills. Recently, we conducted the Khaptad Spiritual Conference in the far-western region to promote the area as a spiritual and meditation hub on the international front.

Additionally, we are promoting Nepal with the theme “Nepal – Beyond Mountains!”

What are some of the hidden gems in Nepal that you believe deserve more international recognition?

Nepal is a diverse country. Its natural beauty, lustful mountains and cultural, traditional and religious heritages make it unique, attractive and unmatchable to any other tourism destination in the world. The hidden gems that I believe deserve more international recognition are Nepal’s people and culture. Nepal is endowed with innumerable intangible cultural heritages in the form of indigenous craftsmanship, music, art, festivals and so on. These attributes have to be recognized internationally.

handcrafted metal workin nepal

Can you share some of the initiatives in place to manage tourism’s impact on Mt. Everest and ensure its sustainable future as a travel destination?

The three levels of government are working closely to manage tourism’s effects on Mt. Everest. In coordination with the local rural municipality and local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), including the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, we have been continuously working to keep Khumbu clean by developing appropriate waste management infrastructures and integrating sustainable waste management approaches. These include: 

  • Setting up a system for waste segregation
  • Strengthening community participation
  • Disseminating public education
  • Finding opportunities for waste reduction, reuse and recycling. 

Additionally, we ensure that tourists have proper documentation while visiting the area, including park entrance fees, Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) and other permits as required to ensure their safety and security.

  • In coordination with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the local government frequently conducts garbage management and cleaning campaigns at the Everest base camp and surrounding areas.
  • The Nepal Army has been running the Clean Safa Himalaya Abhiyan (Mountain Cleaning Campaign) since 2019. It has already collected tons of garbage from Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Pumori, Ama Dablam, Makalu, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Kanchenjunga and other Himalayas, involving International/Non-Governmental Organizations (I/NGOs), locals and others alike.
  • The Government of Nepal is also working on an alternative location for the current Base Camp and the concept of a Sustainable Base Camp is gaining traction.
  • Other 8000+ meter mountains are being equally promoted and encouraged for expeditions to diversify the mountaineering options and develop other mountain zones.
  • Different fee structures are also being considered for the low season to decrease traffic during the high season.
monk in nepal

How does Nepal ensure that its growing tourism industry also protects its natural and cultural treasures?

Nepal has ensured its growing tourism industry protects its natural and cultural treasures by formulating various plans and policies. Nepal has maintained extensive protected areas that cover more than 23% of the country’s total land. Furthermore, infrastructure development is planned and executed with environmental considerations; sustainable construction practices, waste management systems and energy-efficient technologies are incorporated into tourism-related projects to protect Nepal’s natural and cultural treasures.

Nepal is widely known for its cultural attributes, including intangible cultural heritage. The country is working on enlisting its intangible cultural heritage in United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

The three tiers of government are closely working together in the reconstruction and renovation of heritage and cultural sites. Many local governments encourage residents to revive old traditions and use the same age-old technologies, methods and styles when constructing new structures and buildings by providing incentives on taxes and rebates.

The federal government is expanding national parks, conservation areas and wildlife reserves, allocating more buffer zones around national parks, upgrading conservation areas to national parks and more. The policy of declaring tourism villages and cultural villages is also being drafted. The promotion of cultural trails highlighting ethnic communities, such as the Tamang Heritage Trail, Limbu Cultural Trail, Mundum Trekking Trail and Tharu Village Tour, is underway.

handcrafted jewelery in nepal

Can you tell us about the “Immediate Livelihood Support Program for Vulnerable Workforces in Tourism Sector” and its impact on Nepal’s tourism industry and workers?

The global COVID-19 pandemic has affected over 200 countries, leading to widespread lockdowns and disruptions in economic activities worldwide. In Nepal, a four-month-long lockdown, coupled with movement and business operation restrictions, has particularly impacted economic sectors, with travel, tourism and entertainment facing significant challenges. 

Approximately one million jobs in Nepal are associated with tourism, and up to 40 percent of these jobs may have been directly affected by the pandemic. Addressing the retention of these human resources is crucial for the well-being of those affected and for safeguarding the tourism sector, a major economic driver in Nepal.

The Sustainable Tourism for Livelihood Recovery Project (STLRP), a collaboration between the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), aims to revive the tourism sector. Focusing on immediate livelihood opportunities, the project provides short-term employment for vulnerable communities reliant on tourism. 

Simultaneously, it initiates long-term strategies in collaboration with the private sector, emphasizing sustainable job creation, human resource capacity building, support for tourism-based enterprises, enhancement of data management and digitalization and the formulation of a comprehensive tourism recovery strategy. Through these multifaceted efforts, the STLRP seeks to contribute to the recovery and resilience of Nepal’s tourism sector amid the ongoing crisis.

From 2021 to December 2023, the project partnered with approximately 100 local governments and the majority of private-sector tourism trade associations in Nepal to address the severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable tourism workers. Focusing on individuals such as tourist guides, trekking helpers, porters, cooks, waiters and more, who experienced substantial income shocks, the project provided short-term employment opportunities through the cleaning, rehabilitation and construction of small-scale tourism infrastructures. 

This initiative impacted around 10,000 tourism-dependent individuals, with 25% being women and a significant representation from Dalit, Janajati and other marginalized communities. The project created 162,388 person-days of employment across 300 infrastructures in 60 districts, reaching all provinces.

The project developed 16 domestic tourism destinations in collaboration with local governments and enhanced the skills of 3,600 tourism sector workers, fostering job eligibility and entrepreneurship. Notably, the project received international acclaim, including the prestigious Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold Award in 2022 for Tourism Destination Resilience in Asia/Pacific and the 2023 PATA Gold Awards for Women Empowerment Initiatives, recognizing its substantial contributions to reviving the tourism sector and promoting resilience during the COVID-19 crisis.

The initiative’s success was further demonstrated by mobilizing an additional USD 1,500,000 in parallel funding from local governments and private sector stakeholders through a matching fund modality, showcasing efficient resource optimization and strong local ownership. 

Lastly, the project contributed to capacity building in 95 local governments, developed young tourism ambassadors and established sustainable tourism clubs in 130 schools, further solidifying its positive impact on Nepal’s tourism industry.

flags on himalayan mountains

How does the Nepal Tourism Board use funding and other methods to support the inclusion of women, LGBTQ individuals and other groups in tourism?

The Sustainable Tourism for Livelihood Recovery Project (STLRP) implemented targeted interventions to empower women in Nepal’s tourism sector. Pioneering exclusive training programs for women, including river and trekking guide training and basic homestay management, the STLRP aimed to enhance women’s participation in tourism and foster self-reliance. 

Recognizing the historically low involvement of women in the industry (estimated around 20%), the program trained 1,322 women and reached out to diverse communities, with a focus on women, LGBTQ+, Dalit, Janajati and others. Emphasizing gender balance, the STLRP designed over 15 women-focused training sessions and encouraged partners to ensure at least 50% women participation. 

The project also supported the establishment of women-run homestay enterprises. By promoting women as workers and entrepreneurs, the initiative leveraged their inherent hospitality attributes, contributing to gender balance and economic growth in the tourism industry.

Empowering women aligns with Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality and Empowering Women, fostering peace, security and sustainable development. The STLRP’s success underscores the importance of upscaling and replicating these women-focused interventions to enhance the tourism industry across diverse locations and beneficiaries in the country.

candles in nepal

What voluntourism opportunities are available in Nepal and how do you ensure these programs benefit local communities?

Voluntourism generally means volunteering while traveling. Nepal offers voluntourism in many aspects, allowing travelers to have unique experiences while working with local communities. 

Examples include:

  • Teaching English in rural schools.
  • Running health camps.
  • Providing skill enhancement and empowerment training.
  • Assisting in small-scale infrastructure improvement projects and contributing to the conservation and preservation of wildlife.

The Nepal Tourism Board facilitates such programs in coordination with local NGOs, adhering to the government’s strict code of conduct to ensure these programs are ethical and contribute positively to the communities involved.

Are there any particular global tourism destinations you admire for their marketing or tourism management strategies?

Bhutan’s tourism promotion strategy is quite unique, and Nepal can learn from its good practices in terms of tourism management, given its geographical location and size. Bhutan has focused on low-impact, high-value tourism, maximizing revenue by introducing novel natural and cultural experiences.

Mani Lamichhane

Meet Mani Lamichhane

Mani Lamichhane, the Director at the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), brings over two decades of experience to his role. He has worked in various capacities at different tourism organizations, including Tiger Mountain, a pioneer in adventure travel and wildlife safaris in Nepal.

At NTB, Mani has been instrumental in driving tourism product development initiatives and has held leadership positions in multiple departments. He holds a Masters in Business Studies, Tourism Management, and International Relations and Diplomacy.

Alongside his role at NTB, Mani is a part-time faculty member at tourism colleges in Nepal and enjoys traveling and modeling in his free time. With his extensive experience and dedication, Mani is a driving force in promoting sustainable tourism in Nepal.

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