Nepal’s Tourism Sector: On the Wings of a Prayer…
28th May, 2020 | Tourism Mail Crew
The COVID 19 pandemic has caused uncertainties of a kind the world has never known and an economic recession not experienced since the 1930s depression. COVID-19 has placed the whole world on lockdown, with new research from the World Tourism Organization showing that 100% of global destinations continue to have restrictions on travel in place, and 72% have completely closed their borders to international tourism. Arguably, Tourism has been among the hardest hit of all major economic sectors the world over, including major adventure destinations like Nepal. While unemployed workers in developed nations are temporarily supported by benefits and job-protection schemes, millions elsewhere are facing dire economic prospects. Nepal’s tourism sector now hangs in dismal future on the Wings of a Prayer.
The COVID-19 pandemic could lead to an annual decline of between 60 and 80 per cent in international tourist arrivals in 2020 when compared with 2019 figures, says the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), placing the livelihoods of millions of employees in this sector at risk. Nepal was expected to draw two million tourists with the launch of its campaign visit Nepal 2020 in January however, with the arrival of the corona pandemic; the ambitious campaign was halted and jeopardized the tourism industry to a standstill. The government enforced a lockdown from the 24th march to curb the spread of this deadly virus. Nonetheless, on the 47th day of the lockdown, the government has allowed 44 different types of industries to function, but Nepal’s tourism still sees closure, affecting this money spinning sector to frightening uncertainty. Arrivals in March dropped sharply by 57 percent following the start of a lockdown in many countries, as well as the widespread introduction of travel restrictions and the closure of airports and national borders. Trekking companies throughout Kathmandu saw a wave of cancellations and clouds of doom hovered over Nepal’s stunning scenic mountains, effectively cutting of Nepal’s extraordinary natural beauty from the rest of the world.
The world is now facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. Tourism has been hit the hardest, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labour-intensive sectors of the economy, more so in Nepal, which relies mainly on tourism to fill its foreign exchange coffers.
Within Nepal’s tourism industry, trekking has been the benchmark for tourism ever since the country opened its doors to outsiders in the late 1950s. Adventure tourism has made the single biggest economical impact on Nepal’s economy, employing and sustaining over a million Nepalese and their families, directly and indirectly. The covid 19 pandemic has affected the jobs of these workers today.
Reviving Nepal’s Tourism…The Future is Now…
The Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) has made a significant contribution to the development and promotion of tourism over the last 42 years. This is the largest umbrella organization with over 1800 member companies.
Nepal’s Tourism today faces the biggest challenge of a generation. The pandemic we know as Covid-19 has placed the tourism industry under immense financial pressure for tourism entrepreneurs who invested heavily in the run-up to the government’s Visit Nepal Year 2020. Many countries, including Nepal’s neighbours, have introduced relief programs to sustain and restore tourism in their countries. However, in Nepal’s context, the government has not announced a single relief package to revive and relieve the country’s biggest money spinning and foreign exchange sector - Tourism.
IT’S NOW PAYBACK TIME…
The Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) has been appealing to the Government of Nepal to announce relief packages that are not limited to but includes the following measures to prevent the tourism sector from absolute bankruptcy:
· Provision of Rs. 2 million loans for up to one year at a minimum interest rate without any collateral for middle and small class trekking entrepreneurs.
· The government provides a minimum of 15000 rupees per month for trekking workers as recommend by the Company they serve for at least one year.
· Moratorium on repayment of EMIs of principal and 2 percent interest for term loans for 24 months and Loan reschedule as tourism entrepreneurs have invested billions of rupees in the tourism sector after the announcement of Visit Nepal 2020, but the global pandemic has adversely affected income source and thus, resulted in the ability to pay loan installments within the respective time periods.
· If the Banks of Nepal are unable to provide concessional loans to trekking companies at low interest rates, under the guarantee of the GoN, provisions can be made for the private sector to take loans from financial institutions such as World Bank, ADB, IMF, and Chinese Banks that are offering lower interest rates.
· The provision of immediate relief to the needy tourism labourers and their families by releasing the TIMS funds that have been withheld from the Nepal Tourism Board over the past years.
· The introduction of a special program to revive and protect distressed trekking companies through forming short-term and long-term plans from the sum deposited in TIMS account.
· Rental concessions are seriously needed for hotels, restaurants and travel – trekking offices and employees working in tourism. We seek relief while also considering convenience of landlords as well.
It is also vital that the government support organizing various capacity building programs for trekking guides and supporters which must include language and writing training, mountain cleaning, maintenance of trekking trails and signage installment.
Organizing various Travel Marts and Travel Shows in coordination with neighboring countries after the pandemic situation returns to normal will revive Nepal’s tourism to a large extent.
To discard any pessimistic thoughts of a worst case scenario, a best case Scenario as envisioned by the United Nations World Tourism Organization [UNWTO] estimates at least 78% on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions by early December of 2020.
Tourism Experts see full recovery in 2021
According to a UNWTO Panel of Experts survey, the majority expects to see signs of recovery by the final quarter of 2020 but mostly in 2021. Based on previous crises, Adventure Tourism and Leisure Travel are expected to recover quicker. While in Europe and Asia the outlook is absolutely positive, with half of the experts expecting to see recovery within this year.
Nepal’s tourism rose from the ashes of a devastating series of earthquakes in the year 2015, why can’t we overcome a virus pandemic with some cautions to ensure tourists visit Nepal’s beautiful mountains once again is a question that has many answers and options to completely uplift Nepal’s tourism sector sooner than expected.
Consequently, the Government of Nepal must begin urgently to determine ways of providing relief packages in order to revive the tourism industry on an unprecedented level for the benefit of the country’s fragile economy.
Khum Bahadur Subedi
Trekking Agents Association of Nepal [TAAN]
Managing Director of Unique Adventure International P.Ltd.