Regional Cooperation for Tourism Development: High-Level Dialogue on Promoting India–Nepal Cross-Border Tourism, Trade, and Industry

   TwitCount
Anu Kumari Lama
Nakul Chettri
The cross-border event on tourism development – held in Siliguri in April 2019 – brought together experts from different sectors (Photo: Anu K Lama)

Tourism and trade play a significant role in socioeconomic development and cultural preservation in Nepal and India. Age-old cultural and trade connections between the two friendly nations bolster bilateral business, trade, and investment while also helping preserve shared natural and cultural heritage and social harmony. To further promote tourism and trade between the two countries with a special focus on eastern Nepal, West Bengal and Sikkim, a one-day event on cross-border tourism, trade, and industry was organized in Siliguri, India, by the Consulate General of Nepal in Kolkata and the Confederation of Indian Industry on 7 April 2019. Anu K Lama, Tourism Specialist, represented the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) through the Kangchenjunga Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KLCDI) at the event. 

Cross-border tourism and regional cooperation are priority areas of the KLCDI – part of its overarching goal to further landscape-level conservation and sustainable development in the Kangchenjunga Landscape. Tourism development can create significant livelihood and economic opportunities, but it is crucial to balance it with the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources and preservation of cultural heritage. Considering the shared cultures and landscapes between India and Nepal, cooperation is critical for sustainable transboundary tourism development in the Kangchenjunga Landscape. The Siliguri event’s focus intersected with the KLCDI’s thematic area of interest – sustainable cross-border tourism through regional cooperation – and laid the foundation for greater bilateral cooperation, networking and partnership. 

The event was attended by high-profile dignitaries and key stakeholders from both countries representing government agencies, diplomatic missions, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, academic institutions, and civil society. His Excellency Ek Narayan Aryal, Consul General of Nepal in Kolkata, was the Chief Guest. During the inaugural session, he spoke about prioritizing three broad areas for regional cooperation around the theme of the event: 1) increase investments to improve connectivity to key destinations in the region through air, land, and water; 2) support the flagship programme Visit Nepal 2020, prioritizing tourism in eastern Nepal; and 3) strengthen and capitalize on the regional tourism market through common branding and marketing strategies to attract visitors to both countries.  

“Eastern Nepal boasts many attractions: from the country’s lowest point in Kechana Kawal, Jhapa, to Mount Everest, the highest mountain of the world,” said Honourable Secretary Badri Raj Dhungana, Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment, Government of Nepal. He identified the close cultural and commercial ties between India and Nepal as an important foundation for collaborative cross-border tourism development.

Air connectivity is essential for a thriving tourism industry, and P Subramani, Director of Bagdogra Airport in India, pointed to the possibility of flights between Bagdogra and eastern Nepal in the future as airport expansion activities are currently underway – expected to be completed by September 2019. This interconnectivity would certainly boost regional tourism given the incoming traffic of tourists at Bagdogra Airport: there was a 48.2% increase in tourist flow (totaling around 2.25 million) at Bagdogra Airport in 2017/2018 in comparison to the previous year. An approximately 30% increase is expected in 2018/2019. 

The panel dialogue on cross-border tourism development covered issues ranging from infrastructure and connectivity to the promotion and conservation of heritages and regional collaboration (Photo: Anu K Lama)

A panel discussion comprising experts on tourism, trade, and industry was moderated by Raj Basu, Chair of Tourism, Confederation of Indian Industry. Representatives from Nepal – both from the government and local bodies – drew attention to the distinct appeal of eastern Nepal’s landscapes and heritage, such as the Pathibhara Temple, which is a site of great religious significance for devotees from Nepal and India. 

Ganesh Prasad Timsina, Chief Administrative Officer of Damak Municipality, stressed on the importance of improved infrastructure, connectivity, and marketing for tourism development across borders. He recommended the continuation of such high-level cross-border dialogues among diverse tourism stakeholders. 

Anu K Lama, Tourism Specialist, ICIMOD, explained the KLCDI’s interests and initiatives and spoke about the significance of tourism and trade. She proposed five key areas for tourism development in the concerned areas of Nepal and India: 1) building competitive tourism products and market position, 2) strengthening connectivity, 3) ensuring effective public–private partnership, 4) building the capacity of tourism service providers, and 5) promoting research and development collaboration. 

Biswa Prasad Paneru, Consul, Consulate General of Nepal in Kolkata, delivered a vote of thanks, emphasizing the need and value of multi-level, multi-stakeholder partnerships in strengthening cross-border tourism between India and Nepal. 

The cross-border event was successful in achieving two important goals. First, it helped initiate dialogue on an important sector that could benefit from a common strategy and utilization of shared resources. Second, the event helped strengthen bilateral institutional ties crucial for scaling sustainable tourism development beyond borders. Transboundary collaboration for tourism development can ensure sustainability and preservation of nature, culture and heritage and improve the livelihoods of millions in both India and Nepal.