Nepal commits to accessible tourism initiatives

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The recently concluded International Conference on Accessible Adventure (ICAA) 2018 at Pokhara heralds a new chapter in diversifying the enormous potential that Nepal’s tourism industry harbours. Worldwide the market potential for accessible tourism that caters primarily to travelers with disabilities, the elderly, and people with limited mobility is huge. Pankaj Pradhananga, Director at Four Season Traval and Tours, has been at the forefront of initiatives for inclusive and accessible tourism in Nepal since 2014, alongside the late Dr. Scott Rains. He hailed the conference as a monumental step toward making Nepal a destination for people that have limited mobility and have the potential to spend, both Nepali and foreign nationals. “It’s not just a day, it’s Day one for accessible adventure in Nepal. When we embrace and empower such visitors we open up one of the most beautiful countries in the world to them alongside newer and better income generation possibilities for the sector,” Pradhanang shares.

This also marks a paradigm shift in the way people with disabilities are perceived in the region. By sharing international best practices and experiences from countries that are benefitting from opening up their tourism sectors to inclusiveness, the Conference highlighted how Nepal can take the lead in the region in accessible tourism. Improved tourism infrastructure, specialized services and facilities, alongside trained personnel to cater to people with mobility challenges translates into renewed investment, a new market of income, and employment opportunities for many. This sentiment was echoed by Suman Timsina, Executive Director at International Development Institute (IDI) that is based out of Washington D.C., co-organizer of the conference. John Heather, Program Chair, announced that Pokhara would be the model for accessible tourism destination for Nepal and lessons learnt from there would be packaged into applications for the rest of the country.

Renaud Meyer, UNDP Country Director, identified accessible tourism as a human rights issue and an important factor for economic development for Nepal whilst reiterating UNDP’s continued commitment at championing accessible tourism in Nepal.

Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO, Nepal Tourism Board(NTB), that organized the event with IDI, was optimistic about the outcomes of the conference. He said such events are reminders to government and private organizations of the joint commitment that is needed to focus on such issues. He reiterated NTB’s commitment in making Nepal an accessible adventure destination for all. NTB and IDI jointly announced at the Conference that henceforth Nepal will celebrate accessibility in the tourism industry annually on March 30. A keynote speaker at the Conference, Corporal Hari Budha Magar, who is a Gurkha war veteran and a double amputee, was an inspiration to the multinational audience where he revisited his worldwide adventures. He also plans to summit Mount Everest in 2019 as part of his ‘conquering dreams’ tour. Other key guests at the Conference included Mr. Scott DeLisi, former Ambassador of USA to Nepal and various key government officials and tourism entrepreneurs across Asia.

Sagar Prasai from NFD-N was the event emcee. Sumit Baral moderated a session with mayors from 5 municipalities including Biratnagar where they expressed their commitment to make their cities accessible for all. Similarly, Mr. RR Pandy, Nandini Thapa, Khem Lakai and Divyansu Ganatra contributed in the Panel discussion ‘ Accessible Tourism – Challenges & Opportunities’ moderated by Pankaj Pradhananaga.

The key partners of conference were NFD-N, CIL- Kathmandu, Four Season Travel & Tours, CBM, Embassy of India, Turkish Air and Buddha Air.

Another tangible outcome of the conference was the inauguration of Nepal’s first 1.24 km long accessible trekking trail from Kaskikot to Naundanda. NTB led it by putting its resources to upgrade the trail as per GHT standard welcoming wheelchair users, senior citizens, and walkers with mobility restrictions that will serve as a model for the Nepal and the wider region. Nepal can truly become a destination that will allow adventure for all.

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Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1979), beginning as a travel agent up through today as a publisher of eTurboNews (eTN), one of the world’s most influential and most-read travel and tourism publications. He is also Chairman of ICTP. His experiences include working and collaborating with various national tourism offices and non-governmental organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations, and in planning, implementing, and quality control of a range of travel and tourism-related activities and programs, including tourism policies and legislation. His major strengths include a vast knowledge of travel and tourism from the point of view of a successful private enterprise owner, superb networking skills, strong leadership, excellent communication skills, strong team player, attention to detail, dutiful respect for compliance in all regulated environments, and advisory skills in both political and non-political arenas with respect to tourism programs, policies, and legislation. He has a thorough knowledge of current industry practices and trends and is a computer and Internet junkie.