'Hotelier envoy' promotes tourism in Nepal
By Kim Se-jeong
Tourism in Nepal has specific associations.
Out 14 of the highest Himalayan peaks — all are more than 8,000 meters high — eight are located in the landlocked country, attracting intrepid mountaineers and trekkers.
This creates business opportunities in the country, which has nearly 800 local tourist agencies specializing in mountaineering and trekking.
Two decades ago, Kaman Singh Lama, Nepalese ambassador to Korea, was part of that business. Back then, the number remained at around 400, Lama said, during an interview with The Korea Times on July 16.
His travel agency coordinated journeys of trekkers and mountaineers who were coming mainly from Europe. He drove groups of travelers to a base camp in access of high peaks with a truck full of equipment.
Mountaineering and trekking are two very different activities. The first is a serious, profession-related sport aimed at reaching the peaks of rock, snow, or ice-covered mountains, whereas trekking generally refers to long journeys undertaken on foot.
The envoy said that mountaineering or trekking never spurred a serious interest in him. Instead, his three-year experience stirred his business interest.
Now, he is the owner of a three-star hotel in Kathmandu, the capital, and he has every good reason to promote adventurous tourism to his country in Korea.
One the strongest points of contact for him and the Nepalese Embassy here is the Korean Alpine Federation.
Lama spoke of Park Young-seok, a veteran mountaineer who went missing in October last year while climbing Annapurna, one of the highest peaks in the Himalayas.
A meorial service was held for Park, which Lama’s predecessor attended. The team leader Um Hong-gil recently announced that the team will go back to Annapurna in August in search of Park’s body.
“They have a chance of finding the body, because ice melts in August. I keep my fingers crossed for them,” the ambassador said.
Tourism contributes only a small amount to Nepal’s economy, 3-4 percent of its GDP. “But it is creating jobs,” the envoy said,
explaining why it is on the priority lists of the government and the embassy in Seoul. According to statistics released by NepalMinistry
of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, 602,867 people visited Nepal in 2010.
The agriculture sector is a bread earner for the Nepalese economy. One significant contribution is from nearly 1 million Nepalese working abroad, whose remittance accounts for 25 percent of the GDP.
Malaysia has the largest number of Nepalese workers, followed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States and the United Kingdom. Korea has 17,000 Nepalese workers.
Rice, wheat and barley are the main crops.
Traditional farming methods have become a major obstacle to Nepal’s agricultural sector. To deal with it, the country is reliant on assistance from developed countries. Germany and Japan, for example are helping Nepal to this end, Lama said.
A particular interest is preserving indigenous crops, for example, “we have indigenous rice that we want to protect.”
The ambassador appealed for Korean assistance in agriculture as well.
The Korea International Cooperation Agency, a public body that implements the majority of the government’s international development budget, has several bilateral development projects.
Kathmandu University has the Kathmandu Vocational Training Center in which experts from Korea train professors and lecturers to create a turbine designed to generate 300-kilowatts-worth of electricity.
In a rural village outside the capital, KOICA has a social development program geared towards enhancing maternal health and programs for children. Through a multilateral channel, the KOICA donates money for developing different strains of corn and for rural development projects, but it’s very minimal.
Lama said Nepal would welcome investment from Korea in the fields of hydropower and infrastructure development.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the country has “considerable scope for exploiting its potential in hydropower, with an estimated 42,000 megawatts of feasible capacity,” but the political instability obstructs foreign investors from coming.
In an online report, the Korean Embassy in Nepal indicated that airports, roads, hydropower power plants, and communication development hold business potential for Korean companies, but no private company is known to have taken the initiative.
But the real challenges for Nepal are its landlocked geographical location, labor unrest and susceptibility to natural disasters.