The Adventure Connection recently coordinated UK travel trade and media to attend the inaugural Himalayan Travel Mart & Conference held in Kathmandu in June 2017. Wanderlust Magazine editor Phoebe Smith asks Adventure Connection founder Mark Wright for his views on the conference.
Phoebe: How has Nepal recovered from the earthquake?
Mark: It was extremely encouraging to see just how ‘intact’ Nepal is. To be honest, if I’d arrived without knowing there’d been an earthquake two years ago, I probably wouldn’t have noticed anything. Although there are still signs of the odd bit of damage and repairs going on, it’s an absolutely bloody amazing country. The people are so, so friendly, even in the capital, Kathmandu; and the mountains are simply stunning. I first visited in 1986 and it is still as fantastic as it was then.
Phoebe: Are travel agents/their customers right to still have concerns? Any areas they cannot visit?
Mark: No and yes. There is absolutely no need to have concerns about sending clients to Nepal and the people there really want the travel industry to support them. Local Nepali people seem so happy, but their income is a fraction of those in the Western world and tourism is a big part of their economy. Many people poured out sympathy, support and aid at the time of the earthquake, but much of the travel industry seemed to turn its back on Nepal quite quickly afterwards (in its hour of need). There are still a few areas where the trekking routes haven’t re-opened, but the majority of places that people want to go are open. I have to say, it’s still one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. Your clients will be very happy if you send them there.
Phoebe: What was the first Himalayan Travel Mart all about? What came out of it?
Mark: The Himalayan Travel Mart was held between from 01-04 June and the main objective was to re-establish Nepal as the Gateway to the Himalayas. The event saw the participation of around 75 Buyers from 36 Countries, and over 50 exhibitors from Bhutan, India, Tibet, Indonesia and Nepal. The conference also hosted the nation’s first ever ‘International Travel Bloggers and Media Conference where 108 international bloggers and media personnel attended the event. The mood at the conference was incredibly positive as most visitors had spent the previous week exploring Nepal’s jungles, mountains and heritage areas. Like me, they were very pleasantly surprised that perhaps the media had painted a gloomier picture about the effects of the earthquake than the reality. The general consensus was, it’s time to stop even mentioning the earthquake of 2015, Nepal is amazing and can easily compete with other destinations in terms of the sights and value for money. Spring 2017 had been very busy and you could tell from the numbers of tourists in Kathmandu that Nepal is very much back for business.
Phoebe: What is the range of products in the region? What are the typical routes/durations?
Mark: Established local DMCs and agencies like Ama Dablam Adventures and Yeti Travels are still offering the majority of the trekking itineraries. Most visitors tend to want either a dedicated trek (in the Everest or Annapurna regions) or a balanced mix of culture, jungle, rivers and a bit of mountain walking, perhaps in the foothills of the Annapurna region. The Everest region is still popular and one of the DMCs, Explore Himalaya, are currently offering a trek to Everest Base Camp for just $1100 (approx £870) which is really good value for money.
Phoebe: Any newer/emerging/more unusual routes?
Mark: There are emerging patterns and trends. For instance, much higher standards of accommodation than in the past with very comfortable mountain lodges and boutique hotels in Kathmandu and Pokhara. There are some exciting developments in the Chitwan area, where you can walk with elephants instead of riding them, and some very interesting rural village developments like Bandipur, Nuwakot and Repe which should all be available to visit in 2018.
Phoebe: Any other relevant news in terms of infrastructure and logistics – new ways of getting to Nepal? New hotels or experiences in Kathmandu or elsewhere in Nepal?
Mark: There is still a good network of internal flights between Kathmandu and the Everest and Annapurna regions. Roads aren’t always perfect (they never were to be honest) so take a spirit of adventure and a sense of humour with you when you visit. There are some wonderful hotels - the World Heritage hotel in central Kathmandu for instance, practically a living museum but open to the public as accommodation too. I was privileged to visit the most incredible heritage hotel in Pokhara, due to open in October, which looks like a re-creation of Durbar Square in Kathmandu. Beautiful, traditional methods with hand-carved timbers and locally crafted furnishings. I am sure it will become world-famous when it opens in October.
The conference was a great success and The Adventure Connection was proud to help co-ordinate UK trade before the conference as well as moderate some of the conference. And we are delighted to announce that the conference has already been planned for 01-03 June 2018. Please contact Mark Wright at The Adventure Connection if you are interested in applying as there will be a limited number of hosted places available for 2018.
If you don’t currently offer at least three programmes to Nepal, please think again or you could miss out on the wave of demand that has already started.