Destinations outside the mass market pursue ‘low-price’ travellers at their peril, say tourism experts.

However, high-end tourism can be “fool’s gold” according to Tom Jenkins, head of European tourism association Etoa.

Professor Wolfgang Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, told the Asian Resilience Summit in Kathmandu: “Nepal is attracting a lot of visitors but the wrong kind. This is a trap.

“Nepal has a positive image in China, even with the earthquake [in 2015]. The problem is most Chinese travellers are low-end on price. If you offer Nepal as a cheap destination ultimately you will damage the brand.”

He argued: “Sri Lanka used to have 15,000 Chinese arrivals. Now it has 300,000, but everyone complains European and American visitors are not going to Sri Lanka. This is something you should avoid.”

Arlt insisted: “Don’t believe Chinese tour operators [on price]. Try to be expensive.”

Ibrahim Osta, Middle East and North Africa director for development company Chemonics International which works with US agency USAID and the UK Department for International Development, agreed.

Osta told the summit: “The mass market is not what you want to go into. Russians are sold Egypt [holidays] for $28 per night with three meals. You can’t afford that market. You have a gem. Position yourself as a niche destination. Migrate to a high-spending market.”

Suzanne Al Houby, owner of Dubai-based Rahhalah Explorers, also agreed. She said: “Nepal is marketed as a budget destination, but adventure travellers spend $300-$400 a day. You need to communicate that it’s not just a budget destination.”

However, Etoa chief executive Tom Jenkins argued: “Uniqueness sells. What is not unique is the desire for high-end tourists.

“Tour operators love higher-priced tourism, but tourism has a shelf life. You must fill rooms. When you set a price, the market comes back and bites you. In many ways, it is fool’s gold.”

Jenkins pointed out Nepal borders China and India and told the country’s tourism leaders: “You have the world’s two fastest-growing markets on your doorstep.

“Your domestic demand does not sustain what visitors come for. In London and Paris it does. You are trying to create a secondary industry and it will be defined by your biggest markets, on your border. You want to define your destination as high-end but be realistic about where your demand is coming from.”

More: resiliencecouncil.com

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