Kathmandu – Nepal’s caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal Thursday wielded the broom in a public area to kick off the Nepal Tourism Year 2011 campaign following Hollywood icon Richard Gere’s tips that he looked for hygiene and security during his trips to Nepal.
The campaign, aiming to bring 1 million tourists — the bulk of them from India — starts with just 100 days left for the official launch of Nepal Tourism Year 2011 when the government is inviting the tourism ministers of 25 Asian countries for a gala inauguration in the capital.
It also coincides with the inaugural flight to Kathmandu by India’s budget airline Spice Jet, which is expected to boost Indian fliers.
Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Singh Bhandari said he had asked Gere, who stayed at the famed Nepali heritage hotel Dwarika’s during his last trip to Nepal, to be Nepal’s tourism ambassador.
However, the actor declined, saying he came to Nepal not to be part of any commercial activity but to seek out people and their warmth, since in the west, men had turned into machines.
Gere, who frequents the world’s most sophisticated cities, also said he preferred the unique Nepaliness of Nepal and did not look for skyscrapers or fine dining.
However, the minister said the Hollywood star said he did seek hygienic environment and security during his travels.
With the country undergoing a protracted political stalemate and the government unable to table the new budget, Nepal’s tourism authorities and stakeholders have therefore chosen to focus on two things that don’t need a big budget or politics, Bhandari said.
‘We hope that the broom wielded by the prime minister in Kathmandu today will reach villages all over Nepal for a clean-up, enabling Nepalis to show a civilised face to the world,’ the minister added. ‘We are also seeking peace and security.’
The cleanup will target the Tribhuvan International Airport at Kathmandu where besides getting a new coat of paint, the immigration department and security will be spruced up, followed by similar exercises at other domestic airports.
The government is also focusing on home stays in a bid to fan out tourists to villages.
However, Bhandari acknowledged it would be a tough job in villages where houses lacked toilets and people used the roads for defecation.
‘Once they realise a bathroom can bring in income, it will be an incentive,’ he said. ‘It would cause a behavioural change in Nepal’s villages.’
Till last month this year, Nepal recorded a 20 percent growth in the number of visitors.
Last year, tourism fetched the country $360 million, which is expected to go up to $444 million this year.
In 2011, Nepal is targeting over 260,000 visitors from India and from December, a campaign will start in India through TV stations, radios, the Internet and road shows.
Nepal last week roped in former Indian Idol of Nepali origin, Prashant Tamang, as Nepal’s goodwill ambassador. Its current tourism ambassadors are the reigning Miss Nepal and her two deputies as well Khagendra Thapa Magar, who this month will be officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest man in the world at 22 inches.
However, despite the campaign, Nepal’s natural scenic beauty and the fabled warmth of its people, the government has to resolve a long political crisis with the squabbling political parties unable to elect a new prime minister even after 10 rounds of election.
On the day the campaign kicked off, the caretaker government was on its 100th day since the prime minister resigned in June and parliament was bracing for an 11th round of election that looked to be futile as well.
Security has taken a major beating during the tenure of the caretaker government. On the eve of the campaign, two teenagers were abducted and murdered in southern Nepal masterminded by a school official with the help of a policeman.
Also, ironically, while following Gere’s tips, the government remained oblivious to Gere’s concern for the rights of Tibetan refugees in Nepal.
This month, in an unprecedented gesture, Nepal police, under pressure from China, prevented Tibetans from taking part in an election to choose a new government in exile.