Turkish Airlines has been operating in Nepal for the last four years and succeeded in establishing itself as a major airline working for the Himalayan nation. It has become a gateway for Nepalis to reach various European cities with 5 weekly flights, more than 300 destinations via Istanbul, Turkey and its services reaching to 220 countries. And now the airline plans to increase its quality services in Nepal even more.
Arun Budhathoki spoke with Turkish Airlines General Manager Abdullah Tuncer Kececi about his perspectives on Nepal’s aviation industry and its future.
Here are the excerpts:
- How has the 4 years journey been so far for Turkish Airlines in Nepal?
It’s like the country per se. We came to Nepal with a different vision and that’s to promote this nation as a tourism destination. And I know that the other airlines started their operation here for the labor market. So in that sense, our approach was different from the beginning. We have tried to promote Nepal as the tourist destination, however, everything in the country needs to move parallel to our expectations. Unfortunately, we had a big earthquake in 2015 and that really affected us too. Our tourist numbers nosedived but we were aware of the earthquake’s aftermath and did everything we could. I wasn’t present here but my friends and we decided to push Nepal as the tourist destination even more.
We decided to not close our operation but continue and since that time we have been trying to increase the number of passengers. This year we have achieved our target. The tourism number of Nepal in 2015 slipped to 14%; in 2016 it was 20-25%; and this year we are trying to reach the 2014 number, which was, around eight thousand hundred passengers. Our ultimate target is to bring 5 million tourists to Nepal.
- What’s the future strategy of Turkish Airlines for Nepal?
Nepal is a tourism destination for us.
We’ve been trying to promote Nepal as a tourist destination wherever we exist. Also, we have been involved in cross-marketing activities and have reached places like World Trade Market (WTM) London, Spain, Paris Tourism Fair, and United States for marketing purposes. After the 2015 earthquake, most of the tour operators stopped their operation and we encouraged them to fly again to Nepal as things were getting normal. We gave them the message that we are here and that they should send tourists.
- Your experience in working with Nepal’s aviation industry. What challenges have you faced so far?
It’s too hot!
There are many difficulties in Nepal’s aviation industry.
The mindset must change.
When you are working as an airline to promote Nepal as a tourist destination then you feel it more. Because you need something from the country to push your visions but it’s not happening right now. The fuel costs, landing charges, and ground handling costs are too high. There’s also the ‘monopoly’ in various areas where you do not have any alternatives. Also, there are many taxes and charges. I can say that this is not the ‘mindset to increase the number of tourists’. The country should be more supportive to airlines that want to reach its target.
After Turkish airlines started its operation in Nepal, the trade between Nepal and Turkey increased three times.
- How are you trying to promote Nepal as a tourism destination? Do a lot of Europeans visit Nepal via Turkish Airlines?
We are focusing on promoting Nepal’s various place like Chitwan, Bardiya and other places too. And it’s only possible to increase the tourist numbers by investing in road infrastructure. It’s our desire to promote Turkish Airlines and Nepal vis-a-vis. The connection has to be made between various places in Nepal and promote it subsequently.
Yes. A lot of Europeans do visit Nepal via Istanbul but the numbers aren’t enough. The average rate of European passenger is 80% but we have certain problems that need to be addressed.
The fuel cost for the aviation industry in Nepal is not feasible to any airlines.
The Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) is not feasible too so we need to focus on correcting these areas. And only then we can talk about tourism. And our target of 5 million will be a dream come true too. We have only reached a small portion of people and we need to tap that gap.
- Turkey is still not a part of European Union. Do you think this has affected the passenger ratio from/for Nepal?
Turkey is a part of Europe. And we also have e-visas for Europeans and Schenzen visa holders so that’s not an issue. Turkey is at the edge of Europe so we have the European mentality approach to subjects but we have the Asian soul which makes us closer to Asian destinations by heart.
- What improvements should be made to change the face of Nepal’s tourism and aviation industry?
The mindset must change. And the fuel price is double of the world’s average.
How can we survive like this?
I mean the aviation fuel price in Nepal is just an example:
|Aviation Turbine Fuel (JET A-1)||NRs. 82 — + 13.22/Ltr (Duty Paid)|
|Aviation Turbine Fuel (JET A-1)||USD 750.00 — + 19.54/Ltr (Bonded)|
source: Nepal Oil Corporation.
If tourism is important for Nepal then the aviation fuel price should be addressed. Also, the ground handling charges are expensive too. The services I get is also sub-standard. These areas should be corrected together. We also should have more international airports; two at least, three if possible.
I think the aviation fuel price can be lowered by the concerned authorities. The current price is just not feasible at all. It’s how you manage. Let me give you an example of Turkey. The tourist numbers went down in Turkey last year. So the Turkish government decided to support all the airlines and provided them with incentives, including, $5000 per aircraft. And that’s 10k fuel. It was used for the fuel by the airlines and it really helped the tourism sector in Turkey. I’m not saying this because it will be beneficial for the airlines but in the long run, it will only boost the tourism sector of Nepal. The average daily cost for a tourist visiting Nepal is around $28 (Budgetyourtrip) and if there are more flights and destinations we can bring more tourists who would spend here.
- Does Turkey have any plans to boost its tourism ties with Nepal?
It’s a government to government relations but we are doing best from our side. We are trying to increase the tourist flows and inviting friends to Nepal and vice-versa. Nepal is a good destination for Turkish people and Turkey is a wonderful destination for Nepalis too. Turkey’s tourist number is 40 million and Nepal can learn from that.
Turkey is a beautiful country and we have similarities in our culture although traditions are different.
- How’s your experience been living in Nepal?
It feels nice to live in Nepal. I am living like a Nepali citizen as the problems other faces I do too. If you forget the roads for a minute then it’s a really good experience. The people are lovely and we have a good understanding of each other.
People are the biggest advantage of Nepal.
Nature, if you go out of Kathmandu, is lovely. I also like the family relations in Nepal because family and traditions are important in Turkey too. The community is amazing too as I can make new friends.
I am okay with food that’s not too spicy although we do have few spicy food items in Turkey. I like momo and we have a similar dish in Turkey called Manti. Rice is also important in our culture. These are all middle eastern culture. There are many similarities in food culture.
- Your last words.
We are the only European airline operating in Nepal and we have been selected as the best European airline back to back since last six years.
We came here with our quality. we are showing it to Nepal. We are a quality airlines.
Our connection is the biggest advantage with 300 destinations. And Istanbul is a critical city geographical-wise. You can reach any European destinations from Istanbul within 2-3 hours. Also, we are bringing in new aircraft to Nepal which will provide business class service. It’s designed for long travels. These are our main advantages. We fly in 16 cities in Germany and 111 destinations in Europe. These are big numbers.
I can say our connectivity, a range of destinations, flight time, and our quality is the main advantage for us. And we are trying to show that quality to Nepal. But we do not accept the present conditions as it is so we are trying to increase our quality in every kind of services in Nepal. I hope Nepal gets a stable government in coming days so that things will be better for everyone. We expect the government will do more and I hope we can work together for the betterment of Nepal’s tourism and aviation industry.
We are a part of Nepal and if Nepal is good we will be good too.
We will push everyone. there’s no where to sleep.