Navigating the Future – Strategies for Sustainable Tourism in Nepal 

The evolving landscape of traveler behavior emphasizes the importance of sustainability.

 – Pankaj Pradhananga –

In his book ‘Voyage au Népal’, published in 1886 AD, the 19th century French polymath Gustave Le Bon detailed the Himalayan country’s geography, art, architecture, and customs. What Le Bon wrote about what he observed here during his visit serves as a rich history of Nepal.

Ever since Nepal opened its doors to international visitors in 1955 after the advent of democracy, the country has evolved into a sought-after destination, drawing adventure seekers and cultural enthusiasts. Despite the setback caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Nepal has demonstrated resilience, with a significant rebound in tourist arrivals this year, reaching 809,678 by October 2023.

Current Scenario

While the tourism sector is recovering from the crisis it endured after the start of the pandemic nearly four years ago, challenges persist. The average daily spending of tourists has declined to USD 42 per day which has indeed raised concerns. Moreover, external factors like the European Union’s ban on Nepali airliners from entering the EU airspace and soaring international airfare pose obstacles for Nepal’s tourism operators. To ensure sustained growth, the industry must transform, focusing on strategic management, marketing, and infrastructure development.

As of 2019, Nepal was gaining well-deserved attention with over 1.1 million international visitor arrivals. The ambitious Visit Nepal 2020 campaign aimed to attract two million international visitors, increase average daily spending to USD 75 per tourist, and earn Rs 200 billion by the end of 2020. However, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the government’s plans, causing an unprecedented fall in visitor arrivals by over 80 percent and a 70 percent decrease in tourism revenue in 2020 (MoCTCA, 2021).

The Covid-19 pandemic taught an important lesson to the global tourism industry, and Nepal was no exception. Despite initial setbacks, Nepal demonstrated resilience, experiencing a remarkable surge in tourist arrivals. By October 2023, the country has welcomed over 800,000 tourists which shows the pace of the recovery. However, the average daily spending of tourists slid down to USD 42 per day, down from USD 68 per day in 2015/16, which is indeed alarming.

As destinations worldwide compete for their share in the global tourism market, Nepal faces challenges such as a shift in travel motivation and skyrocketing international airfare, making a trip to Nepal much more expensive than before. The European Union’s continued ban on Nepali airliners has further impacted the confidence of international travelers in flying with Nepali domestic airlines, particularly concerning insurance-related issues.

For Nepal, to retain its competitive edge, it must reinvent the industry, enhance the competence of tourism operating sectors, and invest in essential infrastructure. Effective destination management and strategic marketing are crucial in the current experience economy, where businesses must develop a competitive edge or risk becoming obsolete. The lack of strategic clarity in destination positioning necessitates a clear strategy, whether the destination is to be positioned as an LVHV (Low-value High volume) or an HVLV (High-value Low Volume) destination, with a focus on sustainability and competitiveness.

Traveler Behavior Change and Sustainability Practices

The evolving landscape of traveler behavior emphasizes the importance of sustainability. According to a Kantar poll in 2021, 78 percent of people are concerned about the climate crisis, but 46 percent don’t feel obliged to change their habits to mitigate it. Travelers believe that sustainable travel is important on a global scale (81 percent), but a McKinsey survey of 5,500 air travelers reveals that only 36 percent are willing to fly less to reduce their impact.

People travel to create memories and have experiences, and often, their number one motivation is to relax and not feel responsible. In both cases, sustainability becomes a barrier. By focusing efforts on targeting the right traveler, much higher responsibility is placed on the individual to follow through with their intentions, act responsibly, and make sustainable choices at every turn.

Path to the Future: Sustainable Tourism Destination

In the late 1990s, economist Joseph Pine II popularized the term “the experience economy” arguing that businesses should focus on creating unique experiences for their customers to differentiate themselves from their competitors. In today’s global economy, this is truer than ever before. Travelers are looking for destinations and companies that can provide them with an enjoyable and memorable experience.

Nepal offers an unmatched opportunity to partake in authentic experiences such as pottery making, orthodox tea tasting, meditation and wellness, and cooking local delicacies, etc. These experiences allow visitors to understand and appreciate the best-kept secrets of the destination.

Best Practices in Nepal

Nepal has successfully embraced some of the best practices that provide a clear competitive edge as a sustainable destination.

  • Community-based Tourism: Exploring villages, learning local crafts, and imparting knowledge are key highlights where Nepal is getting things right, and visitors absolutely love the experience. Staying in family-owned homestays in Panauti, Bungamati, and Bardia, promoted by Community Home Stay Nepal, has been a force for good, leaving a positive impact on people and the environment.
  • Buffer Zone Program:  Implementation of the buffer zone program in national parks has addressed various issues, including human-wildlife conflict mitigation, income, and employment. This has resulted in green growth and a sustainable model of tourism. Nepal has been a champion in better protection for its Asian rhinos, receiving admiration from conservationists and nature lovers globally. Tourists› dollars spent in the form of national park fees and other taxes are utilized effectively. The conservation of endangered species would not have been possible without sustainable tourism practices in place. It is one of the most pragmatic conservation models where law enforcement agents work in tandem with local communities to achieve what was almost perceived as a daunting task.

Tourism for All: Nepal is leading in accessible tourism, turning the country into a destination for all. Initiatives like the ‹Wounded Heroes’ trek and the first accessible trail near Pokhara Valley have positioned Nepal as a destination progressing towards an inclusive tourism goal.

The tourism industry in Nepal has become synonymous with resilience, and international travelers have shown confidence and love for Nepal even during turbulent times. Nepal is at a crossroads to build back tourism better while meeting the missed target of welcoming two million tourists. However, no destination can remain competitive without innovation in product development and effective destination marketing.

General wisdom suggests that Nepal cannot adopt the Bhutan model of HVLV tourism, as it needs LVHV to ensure a trickle-down effect for the benefit of low-income communities/ MSMEs. A mid-path approach is the need of the hour, increasing the high volume in certain destinations and keeping the number low by adopting a high-value pricing strategy in selective destinations like Upper Mustang, Everest region, and Bardia National Park.

It is indeed the right time to reinvent the industry and get STP (Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning) right. This is an opportunity not just to rebuild tourism but also to make it sustainable and inclusive for the benefit of all.

Pradhananga is the Director of Four Seasons Travel & Tours. He can be reached at

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