Yogesh Bhattarai is Nepal’s 37th Tourism Minister in 41 years. He has taken the place of Rabindra Adhikari, who was killed in a helicopter crash in April, and wants to continue projects his predecessor was keen on, like Nijgad Airport. Bhattarai spoke with
Nepali Times this week about the prospects of Visit Nepal Year 2020, rescuing Nepal Airlines and speeding up construction at Pokhara and Bhairawa airports.
Nepali Times: You now head a ministry infamous for frequent changes and wheeling-dealing. How will you clean up its image?
Yogesh Bhattarai: As the 37th Tourism Minister my appointment is unusual, and I have a pile of extraordinary tasks to complete. I will only step down after we have accomplished them. The centres of power in this country are the government and the Nepal Communist Party, so there is no room for any wheeling-dealing.
How are the preparations for Visit Nepal 2020?
Since there was no minister for a long time, the preparations are not satisfactory. Infrastructure has not taken off. The challenge is to speed it up, and within two weeks we will release a detailed workplan laying out the responsibilities of the government, the ministry, the department, Nepal Tourism Board, organising committees and embassies for the Visit Nepal Year.
The last Mt Everest climbing season was controversial. What are your plans for future expeditions?
Much of it was intended to give Nepal’s mountains a bad reputation. There are some weaknesses on our side, but the weather window of just three days led to the crowding. Like every year there were casualties and we are concerned about reducing them. Some agencies are also cleaning up the garbage on Everest. We will issue new climbing rules and from the next season, only trained liaison officers will be employed.
Nepal Airlines has new planes, but no new plans, Sharaj Ojha
Keeping Nepal Airlines airworthy, Sharad Ojha
Where has the investigation on fake helicopter rescues gone?
The investigation committee under the general secretary has made some recommendations. Based on that document, further investigations are underway and the culprits will be punished.
The number of tourists has increased, but their spending has not.
This year, average spending per tourist came down to $44 from $55. But transactions via informal channels have been reduced.
You said you would make Nepal Airlines “wow worthy”. What did you mean?
We have to make Nepal Airlines fly high again and turn it into a flag carrier we can be proud of. There are problems — we know what they are. The company should be in profit, and pay its debts. We cannot achieve that in two months, and there is no silver bullet. We need shock therapy.
Mismanagement and political interference are blamed.
I don’t wish to blame anyone personally. I don’t think anyone intended for NAC to collapse. But as I said, we are looking at a dramatic turnaround in management. Those who can handle the change will stay, those who can’t will have to go. If management can convince the government that the company is financially viable, then it will invest.
You seem to be all for building Nijgad Airport. What about the trees?
I am not here to cut trees, but we need to build the airport. Its investment modality will be decided after a discussion with Investment Board Nepal. We will talk with the Ministry of Forests, and local governments will work on resettlement. It is a national pride project, so it also requires political commitment. We aim to lay the foundation stone by November.
Nepal’s aviation is still under the EU blacklist, even if ICAO has delisted us from the list of countries with safety concerns.
As per ICAO, a country should score a minimum of 60 points to pass the safety test — we have 66 points and have been delisted. But as far as the EU is concerned, a team is visiting Nepal for a safety audit. We believe that Nepal will soon be taken off the blacklist.