In this column ‘Outside In’ I used to look at Nepal seen through outside eyes, commenting on things that you may not see because you are too close. I have been climbing in Nepal since 1983 and have a business here, so a vested interest in the shared success of Nepal.
I met your editor, Kunda Dixit recently and he asked me to comment on the state of the Everest Industry, for that is what it is. May is the big month for Everest. Social media is full of Everest, keeping us abreast of progress. The climbers are all now acclimatised and waiting for their ‘weather window’ when the winds drop enough to go to the summit. Most of them will now be using oxygen made in Nepal, delivered by equipment made in Nepal by Nepali operators, and ably assisted by bold Nepali climbers.
Social media is also abuzz with Nepal Tourism Year 2020. The prevailing comment is in one word: strategy. You could call it vision. Let’s face it, Nepal is a ‘five dollars today economy’. Take five dollars Monday because you can, rather than wait until Friday and take 50.
Quick example: the hotel I used for many years overcharged me one time. It was just $10. They were insistent I pay. I said I would pay the extra $10 but that I would never return, they accepted this. I paid, I never returned. I also never recommended them to my friends and clients, which would have been ten times my own business. And I never took another trekking group there.
That was an expensive $10. It cost them thousands and continues to hurt them. My point is simple: move on Nepal. Think about the future. My first column in Nepali Times in 2014 (#731) was titled The Gate. It described how Kathmandu Airport was seen by an arriving visitor. It was not good. I am being kind, it was very bad, one of the worst in the world. This is Nepal’s main gate, the first and last thing you see: it reeks of urine and has endless queues.
I would have to say it has got better with the new visa machines, but Mr Airport, may I make a small point. I found the part of the machine that says ‘scan passport’ does not work. After trying to make it work several times, someone comes and says “It does not work, enter the information manually.” Call me a rocket scientist, but if you put a sign on every machine that says ENTER INFORMATION MANUALLY then the queues would reduce by 50%.
At the beginning of my time here in Kathmandu, there were two crashes at the airport within a week. Why risk flying here when you can go somewhere safer? Fix the airport first. You don’t need a grand meeting, a big event for 2020 if no one wants to come.
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Meanwhile, we in the mountaineering industry are training Nepali climbing guides, providing qualifications. Training high altitude workers in the use of oxygen equipment, promoting professionalism and confidence. We are working with the helicopter industry to make it safer. We are providing equipment that guests expect: western standards, compliance, accountability.
Say you are climbing Everest, you get to Camp 4, you are ready for your big day, but your oxygen cylinders are empty. You might die, or you might just get sick or lose some fingers or toes. But your dream is dead. Why did this happen, where did those cylinders come from? No one knows. There is a thriving black market in old cylinders as there is no traceability or certification, no test date, no safety standard. It is the same $10 today mind set.
The industry is healthy today, but we must not be complacent. There is no point in me talking about all that is good. What is good today puts rice on the table today. Fixing the bad and making the average better ensures rice in the future. With chicken.
It is the responsibility of every Nepali and all of us ‘working visitors’ to do our best, to make sure that every visitor will want to come back. That is strategy. Every taxi driver or airport luggage tout who rips off tourists is damaging Nepal.
Ted Atkins is a former RAF Chief Engineering Officer and works on mountaineering oxygen systems.
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