Tourism beyond borders: Stakeholders discuss opportunities for cross-border tourism at the Fifth Asian Rural Tourism Festival

Kamal Prasad Aryal
Nakul Chettri
Asmita Khanal

As the Government of Nepal launches its Visit Nepal 2020 campaign, communities in eastern Nepal will have an additional appeal to tourists: Go east! This new slogan came out of a joint declaration during the Fifth Asian Rural Tourism Festival, held from 25 to 29 January 2019 in Bahundangi Village in Jhapa District, southeastern Nepal. The festival brought together tourism stakeholders from eastern Nepal and Sikkim, India, to explore how tourism can be effectively developed in the area.

The Kangchenjunga Landscape – shared by Bhutan, India, and Nepal – is a less explored, under-promoted landscape with stunning biodiversity, diverse ethnic groups, and rich cultures and heritages shaped through centuries of cross-border interactions and experiences. To add to this abundance of life and beauty, tourists are also treated to spectacular views of Mount Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak. 

Capitalizing on the opportunities afforded by the landscape is important, and sustainable ecotourism development could bring new opportunities for local communities to generate additional income while also protecting the environment. But promoting rural tourism in this landscape – which is not yet a mainstream tourist destination – comes with a number of challenges, and visitor numbers are well below the landscape’s potential.

One possible solution to unlocking this potential is to create a broader experience that links countries across borders. Accordingly, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and its partners under the Kangchenjunga Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KLCDI) organized a series of activities during the Fifth Asian Rural Tourism Festival to promote cooperation and networking among relevant stakeholders for transboundary tourism development. 

Together with the Nepal Tourism Board, ICIMOD organized a two-day training on tourism hospitality for more than 60 homestay operators, travel agents, taxi operators, and tour operators from Nepal and India. ICIMOD also held a stakeholder meeting to discuss how the festival can function as a platform for strengthening tourism at the transboundary level. Raj Basu, a tourism expert and entrepreneur from India, emphasized the importance of transboundary tourism in promoting connectivity and economic growth among stakeholders. If effectively managed, transboundary tourism could contribute to the twin goals of conservation and development in the landscape. Tourism stakeholders were interested in forming networks to coordinate tourism promotion and development efforts. 

Cross-border stakeholder meeting on tourism promotion in the landscape (Photo: Ashmita Khanal)

Next year’s Sixth Asian Rural Tourism Festival will have greater focus on the opportunities that collaboration across borders can bring to tourism development in the region. In particular, stakeholders hope to form a “Homestay Congress” to foster networking and joint product development and marketing among homestay operators. “Creating a network of homestay operators across the landscape would help us learn from each other and will create new opportunities,” said Laxmi Bhattarai, a homestay operator from Mai Pokhari, Ilam.

More than 15,000 people from India (Sikkim, Mirik, and Siliguri) and Nepal (Taplejung, Mai Pokhari, and Jhapa) attended the festival. Chief Minister Sherdhan Rai and Home Minister Hikmat Karki of Province 1 in Nepal were also in attendance. The festival was organized with support from Green Generation Nepal, ICIMOD, Nepal Tourism Board, and the Research Centre for Applied Science and Technology (RECAST), in coordination with local government bodies and representatives from homestay operators and tourism organizations in Sikkim and Siliguri, India.

Briefing to the Chief Minister of Province 1, Nepal, about ICIMOD and KLCDI (Photo: Jyoti Chauhan)