At long last, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump had their summit in Singapore, and half of the locals interviewed on international tv were happy and excited, while the other half were angry.
The summit that may result in something or nothing cost Singaporean tax payers $20 million. But that is a small price to pay. The Korean people suffered enough at the hands of the Japanese, the Americans, the Russians, the Chinese and their own rulers for a very long time. Hence the hopes for a lasting peace and ultimately unification of the Koreas.
Next time the world needs a venue for a summit of leaders to end a conflict, it could be Lumbini. There are, at any given moment, numerous wars going on around the world. They all get tired of fighting, and at some point wish to talk. If they need a venue, Lumbini is always there.
Cynics will scoff, but what better place than the birthplace of the Prince of Peace for this purpose? There are new hotels, soon an international airport, and there are plenty of Gurkhas to protect and guard the venue.
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What we may need is a bit of help from Singapore on how to organise, manage and pay for such an event. But Nepal’s hospitality industry is gearing up for an expected boom in tourism. There are three new airports coming up and the existing one in Kathmandu is supposed to be upgraded. Luxury hotels and resorts are popping up all over the place: Kathmandu, Lumbini, Chitwan, Nepalganj.
Nepal has also just launched the Visit Nepal Year 2020. Maybe if Korean negotiations are protracted, we can convince South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who has a soft spot for Nepal, to fly over on Korean Airlines for a North-South Summit.
What will it take to get everyone to take this up? There are people who never believed the Maoists would join up with the UML, who would have thought power cuts would be a thing of the past?
After all, we have had celebrity visitors. Prince Harry visited Nepal, and Marvel Comics Dr Strange helped put Nepal back on the travel map after the 2015 earthquake, sending the message that Nepal was safe and secure.
OK, if we cannot convince the Koreas to come to Lumbini, how about an India-Pakistan Summit? Maybe we can even get President Putin of Russia to follow Siberian cranes on their annual winter migration to Lumbini — Russian tourists and bird watchers from all over the world would follow. There is a need to sell Lumbini high, and having high profile peace talks there in full glare of the world media would do it.
Nepal has done what it can to market its monuments and natural assets and biodiversity that are globally second to none. But we have done little else to put the destination on the world map. A few companies in Singapore, India and Bangladesh have begun to come to Nepal for corporate events. Businesspersons from Bihar and West Bengal would flock to cooler Dharan and Dhankuta if the physical facilities were there.
One challenge is the short-term thinking that prevails in Nepal. After PM Modi’s visit to Nepal, Indian pilgrims are flocking to Muktinath, but we are not offering them adequate facilities. After Modi left Janakpur, even the hastily constructed cement wall in front of the Janaki Temple collapsed. King Bhumibol of Thailand wrote a book on Janakpur, but we couldn’t get him to visit the place when he was alive. Maybe we can get his son, the new King.
The Ministry of Tourism needs to begin to focus big on high-end visitors and events, and stop selling Nepal cheap. The government has set a target of 2 million tourist by 2020, but the daily spending goal is only $65 per tourist per day. We can do much better.
Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc.