When most government offices have successfully implemented online payment systems, Chitwan National Park continues to rely on a manual ticketing service for revenue collection.
The country has come to a point where almost every bill can be paid online. But when it comes to buying tickets to enter national parks like Chitwan, people still have to queue up early in the morning to buy one. This has frustrated those who want to get into the park early to observe wildlife/
“When will we use technology? Do the park officials not understand how much of a time waste it is,” says Mahesh Khanal, owner of Sauraha’s Hotel Park Safari. “It feels like the entire country is moving ahead while we at Chitwan National Park are walking backwards.”
Chitwan National Park provides a range of jungle activities to cater to different tastes. For those seeking an up-close view of the jungle, the jungle walk is an ideal option. Those wishing for a more comprehensive experience can opt for the jeep safari. Although now less favoured due to conservation concerns, some still choose to explore the buffer zone through elephant safari.
The jeep safari, however, remains the biggest cash cow of the national park, prompting stakeholders to advocate for an online ticketing system.
Tourists who take the jeep safari can access the park from six different points. To enter the park, visitors must purchase a ticket, which is manually provided by 14 park employees who stamp the tickets for tourists.
The park charges Rs 150 for Nepali tourists, Rs 1,000 for tourists from SAARC countries, and Rs 2,000 for tourists from other countries.
Woes of entrepreneurs
Mahesh Khanal, who is also the secretary of the Regional Hotel Association Chitwan, said that despite their repeated requests to the park to provide an online ticketing service, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and the Forest Ministry have ignored it time and again.
“We met the finance minister, the director general of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, and even the prime minister and asked them to create an online ticketing system in the park. It has been more than five years since we started lobbing it, but it has not started yet,” Khanal said. “Today, payments are made by scanning the QR code even in ordinary tea shops, such a large body of the state is running in the same outdated style.”
As a result, during peak tourist seasons, people are forced to queue as early as 4 am and wait for park staff to arrive at 7 am. With nearly 90 per cent of tourists entering the national park through Sauraha, and only two employees available to check tickets, hoteliers are becoming increasingly frustrated.
“They don’t increase the staff nor do they start online ticketing,” Khanal told Onlinekhabar. “We’ve offered to help by providing our staff but they just don’t listen and think the park belongs to them.”
Keshav Dhakal, the manager of Hotel Solti in Patihani, shares similar frustrations with the park office. Dhakal says that he has to carry Rs 100,000 in cash daily for ticket purchases.
“It is inconvenient. Had they had an online ticketing service, all this could be negated and I could buy tickets from the hotel,” he says.
Some hotels have also lodged complaints regarding the ticket counter employees’ failure to return change when selling tickets to tourists.
Kamal Jung Kunwar, a former warden of Chitwan National Park, points the finger at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation for not implementing online ticketing services.
“The government talks about Digital Nepal, but it doesn’t seem like it has given priority to ‘digitalise’ the parks across the country,” said Kunwar. “It becomes a headache for the government agencies to learn new things, accept them and get used to them. But why are they neglecting the fact that taking online payments eventually increases transparency?”
Need for an online payment system
Last year, Chitwan National Park collected Rs 180.5 million from tourists and Rs 485.2 million from jeep safari. According to the park, in the last fiscal year, 299,412 tourists visited the park with over 20,000 visiting the park during the Dashain holidays.
The park has permitted 32 jeeps from Sauraha, 20 from Kasara, nine from Meghauli, one from Madi, two from Kujauli, and six from Amaltari to transport tourists into the park. Each jeep is allowed entry into the park only twice a day.
Ticket counters have been set up at Sauraha, Kasara, Meghauli, Bankatta in Madi, Kujauli in Devchuli, and Amaltari (East Navalparasi). Approximately 14 employees are currently stationed at these ticket counters.
An anonymous park officer stated that a significant number of human resources could be redirected elsewhere if the park were to implement an online ticketing service. Despite there being 383 posts in Chitwan National Park, 95 of these positions remain unfilled.
The official stated that by implementing an online ticketing service, information about the park would reach a global audience, facilitating easier extensions of tourists’ stays and leading to increased publicity. Additionally, data on every tourist visiting the park would be readily available, enabling ticket purchases from anywhere. Moreover, managing park timings and crowd control would become more efficient.
He said that once the park adopts an online ticketing system, long-term investments would become simpler. Parks could maintain comprehensive records of visiting tourists, facilitating better planning and strategising.
“An online ticketing system would make our lives easy. It will also make things a lot transparent,” he said.
Ganesh Prasad Tiwari, the information officer of Chitwan National Park, said that in the digital age, relying on a manual ticket system sends a negative message to the world. He stressed that the park has no alternative but to adopt the online payment system.
“We are also having trouble and difficulties due to it,” said Tiwari. “We believe that the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation will soon accept the online ticketing system.”
Bed Kumar Dhakal, Deputy Director General of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, says he understands the pain of the park officials and has said plans are in place to start an online ticketing service.
The Department has already started issuing online tickets at Shivapuri National Park and said it will gradually implement it in the 12 national parks, one wildlife reserve, one hunting reserve, and six conservation areas in the country.
Dhakal, however, pointed out a challenge regarding the implementation of an online payment system for ticket purchases. This issue revolves around the management of service fees (commission) charged by the service provider when buying tickets online, which lacks clarity.
“The Department is gearing up to decrease the unnecessary personnel stationed at ticket counters within the parks,” he says. “We recognise the necessity of offering online ticketing services, especially as the human resources allocated to ticketing have been reduced during the ONM survey.”
“The department is preparing to reduce the number of people engaged unnecessarily in the parks at ticket counters,” he added. “The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation has to provide online ticketing service as the human resources involved in ticketing has been reduced during the ONM survey.”